The last several years have seen the re-introduction of a style of training that was, for the most part, kept for yogis and professional dancers. Core training, mostly through the Pilates Method, was not something we saw much of in the exercise world. Aerobics and strength training dominated the fitness scene for years and while they are excellent methods of fitness, they missed an important element of whole-body health.
Strength Without Flash
Core strength training is not glamorous or flashy which is why it probably was so overlooked for so long. There is no visible six-pack, although, when done properly core strength training can go a long way to a flat tummy. The core muscles work to stabilize the body and are often determining factors in how strong we really are - but they aren't bulky so they aren't noticed much. The only people who held the right idea about core strength for many years were professional dancers and yoga practitioners. It is incorporated into their training and you can see it in the way they carry themselves. Dancers and yoga practitioners stand straighter and tend to stay fit well into old age while their peers are bent over and hobbling along.
A Bit About Core Muscles
The core muscles are not only the muscles in the abdomen and back. They include the muscles in the pelvic floor and hips as well. Since they are deep in the body, buried under other muscles, they can't be seen. The transverse abdominis are under the rectus abdominis (those muscles that we commonly refer to as the six-pack - in people who have trained them). The transverse abdominis hugs the entire area below the belly button. This group works to keep your body upright and protects many of the internal organs. On the flip side of your body is the erector spinae which supports the spine and back. The pelvic floor muscles also help to stabilize the spine. All the while your limbs are active these hidden muscles are working hard to keep the body stable and upright. They improve your balance and allow for greater strength throughout the limbs. A weak core is often the reason for injury or weakness in areas of the body. A twisted knee, pulled shoulder or the classic "weak back" can all be traced to a weak core. A strong core means that even if you are chronologically older, you won't walk "old". A strong core gives power to athletic endeavors and the entire body functions better.
Ways to Strengthen the Core
Crunches and other traditional abdominal exercises develop the topical muscles - rectus abdominis, but don't do much to build the core muscles. Exercises that strengthen the core are the ones where the limbs are moving but the abdomen is still and stable. Pilates is well-known for this type of exercise movement. Another way to strengthen the core muscles is with exercises that require balance. The stability ball is a great tool to develop core strength - balancing while exercising means the core is working. Crunches done on a stability ball are more difficult and much more effective.
Today there are many opportunities available to attend core strength classes at fitness centers and gyms. Core training is finally being incorporated into regular fitness programs and as a result people are learning the value to building this vitally important muscle group. One of the really beautiful aspects of having a strong core is that posture improves dramatically. Standing tall, sitting tall and walking tall are all the results of core strength. Add to that the natural ability to keep the tummy in and the look is regal and strong. With a strong back and strong belly, the powerhouse of the body enables the limbs to do what they need to do with energy and without injury.