You hear it everywhere…. strengthen your core, use your core, feel your core! Does anyone ever really define the core? Many people think your core primarily comprises your “abs,” as in that area that used to be your six-pack. But it goes much deeper than that.
In Pilates, we define the core, otherwise known as the Powerhouse, as the area four inches above and below your belly button around and through your body…. It includes the abdominals as well as the pelvic floor, the muscles around the hip joints and the muscles in the lower back and glutes. In short, it’s all the muscles that support your spine and pelvis. Having a strong core is critical to efficient movement, stability and to preventing injuries.
All movement, from housekeeping to heli-skiing, requires good core strength to keep healthy and to prevent injury. That’s why Olympians and lay folks alike can’t stop talking about it!
Biking, stationary or on the road, requires a strong core. "You can have all the leg strength in the world, but without a stable core you won't be able to use it efficiently," says Graeme Street, founder of Cyclo-CORE and a personal trainer in Essex, Connecticut. Without a strong core, you’ll eventually feel your ride in your shoulders and your back. Says Street, "It's like having the body of a Ferrari with a Fiat chassis underneath."
Runners require core strength too. "When your core is strong, everything else will follow," says Greg McMillan, a running coach in Flagstaff, Arizona He says, "It's the foundation for all of your movement, no matter what level of running you're doing."
The list goes on. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that core strength is vital for everyday movement. Lifting your children, walking to school, kicking and throwing a ball with your travel team hopeful. Without core strength, you will eventually start to feel these activities in your back, neck, shoulders, knees or hips.
So what to do? Core-focused classes abound but some don’t go much beyond crunches. Look for exercises that strengthen deeper muscles, hips, and glutes and back muscles. They should include twisting and side bending movements. In Pilates, my personal favorite, every individual exercise begins first by engaging the core and then deepening that engagement as the movement continues. The rest of the body follows. So while boot camp and Zumba are certainly great workouts, don’t forget that it all starts with a strong chassis!
~ Stacy Geant Hughes, Certified Pilates Instructor, Certified Pink Ribbon Program specializing in post breast cancer surgery rehabilitation, Owner of Core Value Pilates, LLC in Ridgewood, NJ