Being a good athlete requires that I have a strong, stable "core." The core involves all the muscles of your torso and pelvis — the area of the body, including your abdominal muscles, that supports your spine. Like the trunk of a tree supporting its branches, these muscles also help stabilize your body as it moves.
The biggest benefit of core training is to develop "functional fitness." This phrase is a buzzword you hear at gyms and health clubs a lot now, but it's nothing new. Functional fitness refers to building a body capable of performing real-life activities, whether that means playing your sport, having the strength to hold a toddler in one arm, carrying luggage without throwing out your back or being able to keep your balance when a rug slips out from beneath you. A strong core can lead to improved balance, which can help you avoid falls and problems with posture as you get older. It also means building a body that defies the normal processes of physical aging. With a strong core you can look and move youthfully, even as you get older.
Core exercises are functional exercises because your core comes into play just about every time you move. Your core is a powerful foundation for your legs and arms, too — which means you can put more force behind each step and run more efficiently. In addition, working your core tones your abs and keeps your lower back strong.
The above video illustrates three of my favorite core exercises. You don't need any special equipment, except for maybe an exercise mat, and you can do them right at home. These exercises will challenge you, no matter what your age or physical shape. In fact, I think you'll enjoy them, and you'll like building a functionally fit body.
Start: Kneel and place your hands on the floor, as shown. Position your shoulders over your wrists and your pelvis over your knees. Keep neutral alignment with your shoulders back and your navel pulled inward.
Finish: Lift your right arm off the ground and extend it forward in an outstretched position, as pictured. Switch arms. Repeat the exercise for the recommended number of repetitions. Next, perform the same series again, but this time, lift each leg. Be careful to not let your pelvis rock out of neutral while lifting the leg off the ground.
Start: Lie face up on an exercise mat or other soft surface, with your feet on the floor and your knees pointed upward. Keep your hands at your sides.
Finish: Press both feet into the floor, and lift your pelvis off the ground. Squeeze your buns together. Keep your navel drawn in and your tailbone slightly pulled in to maintain neutral alignment. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Breathe naturally as you lower your pelvis back to the floor. On the descent, let your spine slowly touch the mat one vertebra at a time until your tailbone reaches the floor. Repeat the exercise for 10 to 12 repetitions.
Start: Lie on your back on an exercise mat or other soft surface. Bend your knees and place your arms alongside your body. Place a tennis ball on your navel (optional).
Finish: Inhale. Then on the exhale, draw your abdomen in, but without performing a crunch, in order to engage your outer abs and your inner abs. Using a tennis ball helps you see this "drawing in" movement. Repeat this breathing and movement pattern using deep controlled breaths for 10 to 12 repetitions.
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