Your core muscles are those of your trunk or torso, including the abdominals, obliques, pelvis and back muscles. Your center of gravity resides in your core and every movement you make originates here. These muscles are small, and for many years were overlooked in developing fitness programs. Fitness gurus emphasized aerobic conditioning and working the larger muscles of the legs and arms. Core work was relegated to some crunches during the "firm and tone" cool-down of an aerobics session.
But a deconditioned core causes problems; many of the injuries of the early jogging era were probably due to otherwise fit runners ignoring their core. With a strong core, you are more stable, more balanced, and less prone to muscle injuries and back pain.
Many competitive athletes are also realizing that the core muscles are the source of power. For a more powerful golf swing or baseball pitch, a conditioned core is the key. How do you exercise these muscles? Try these tips to help you develop your own workout program.
- Find a good method for exercising your core. Pilates is one of them. Another method is to do core strengthening exercises with a Swiss ball (also known as a fitness or exercise ball). This is a large ball that you sit on or lie across to perform your exercises. Maintaining stability on the ball as you move automatically exercises all your core muscles at once.
You can also perform a series of floor exercises such as this core routine developed by the Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic Core Routine
- Exercise all your core muscles. Many people concentrate on the abdominals and ignore the back muscles. This imbalance makes you more susceptible to back pain and injury. You can strengthen both with core stability exercises.
- Exercise with your belly "scooped," or pulled in, and your inner abdominals engaged. (To identify your inner abdominals, cough and notice the muscles that contract.)
- Start slowly and don't overdo it. The core muscles do not automatically get exercised in the course of your day, and they are small and easy to strain. Athletes who are otherwise in good condition may have weak core muscles unless they have been specifically exercising them. Even if you consider yourself to be in good condition, start a program by doing only a few minutes a day. Strained back muscles in particular make you feel crippled, wondering if you've done yourself a serious injury, and more inclined to give up on core exercises altogether.