Molly McNamee | All About The Core: What’s the big deal?
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All About The Core: What’s the big deal?

Everyone wants a flat tummy and a toned stomach. But core strength is so much more important than just having a 6-pack. The core is the center of your body, so it can be the solution or cause to all of your problems.

What does the core do for you?

First and foremost, the core supports the spine. So a weak core means less back support. If you’ve ever wondered why you have low back pain and other back problems – it’s because of your weak core.

Most of us spend half of our waking hours at work, and for many people that means sitting down at a desk all day. Our lives are becoming more and more sedentary – constantly sitting while we are at home, at work, stuck in traffic. And when you are in a seated position, your core is not engaged. So if we are spending most all of our day with relaxed abs, our cores, in turn, are becoming weaker and weaker.

Lower back problems are typically created because of a weak core. Anytime you are doing an exercise for the front or sides of your core and your low back is hurting, it’s because you are straining your back to overcompensate for weak abs. Low back issues can cause a whirlwind of problems for you.

Your spine connects many bones of the body together, so without proper support from your core, you could be putting your whole body at risk for different injuries.

How should you be working your core?

During all core exercises and pretty any exercise – you should be pulling in your core. And no, that doesn’t mean sucking everything in and holding your breath. Imagine a giant man is about to punch you in the stomach … your instant reaction would be to tense up your core. I want your abs to have that tense feeling throughout your whole workout! That’s how you know you are truly working your core. It’s not easy, but it is the correct way to do most exercises.

The core acts as a stabilizer in your body. So, to train it effectively we need to do functional exercises where the core is the stabilizing muscle versus the prime mover. Exercises like crunches and back extensions are great to use in your workouts occasionally, but pushups, squats, hallow holds and planks work the entire core a bit more. These types of exercises force the core to work hard in stabilizing the body instead of just crunching it up and down.

Pilates is great for the core because all of the exercises take so much control. When you control your movements during a workout you are forced to use your core more. That is why I have my clients take their time in strength training sessions.

Control and balance go hand in hand. Your core is what helps you balance and stay upright. This is why balance training is so good for your middle! Any time you find yourself on an unstable surface, your core will contract to help keep you from falling. You won’t just magically balance; you have to engage those muscles to create balance. Incorporating single leg exercises, work with a BOSU ball/other balance training equipment, and even doing exercises with your eyes closed (do this in a safe environment please) really challenges the core!

What's at risk if you ignore your belly?

Carrying too much weight in your belly can lead to all sorts of health problems including high cholesterol, heart disease, and can put you at a higher risk for certain types of cancer. It is so important for your health to focus on your core. But just doing strength exercises alone isn't enough to shed belly fat. Cardio and a healthy diet are also key factors to losing stomach fat. Focusing on all of these different things is not an easy task, but it will lead to a healthier (and likely longer) life.