Working your “core” is not just sit-ups!
I had some motivation for this week’s topic when I was on “vacation” taking care of my mom this week. She recently had foot surgery and is fine, she just couldn’t walk for 2 weeks. That means I was doing most things for her, although she could still get around using a knee scooter. The knee scooter is pretty handy, it takes the place of crutches. However, she couldn’t go up and down stairs on her own… and, of course, her front door has 2 stairs we dealt with daily. I was her guide, or crutch, when she’d hop up and down those 2 steps, meaning I had to be pretty sturdy, especially my core. I also took their dog, Jake, on walks and a few runs. Jake is a large chocolate lab (a lot bigger than my 20 lb. dog), and he gets pretty excited when we first start walking. So that he didn’t pull me over, I kept my shoulders back and tightened my core, again, making myself nice and sturdy.
These activities that are out of my normal routine reminded me how important our core is during our daily life. If you’ve been trained by me, you know how important it is to keep your stomach tight while exercising (I say it at least 20 times each sessions). But we shouldn’t JUST be thinking about keeping our stomach tight during exercise, we should be thinking about it all day, every day! Eventually it will become a natural instinct. Then when we do something out of the ordinary, like walk a big strong dog, we will instinctively tighten our core to protect and not hurt our low back, neck, knee or other joints.
There are a number of things we can do to make this a habit.
When you’re driving or in a meeting at work, see if you can hold your stomach tight the whole time. I don’t mean suck your stomach in, I mean tighten the muscles like you’re bracing for a punch in the stomach. But don’t hold your breath (we tend to do that when “sucking in”), keep your stomach tight while still breathing normally. And try not to tense up anything else, especially your neck and shoulders. It may be challenging to do at first, so you should try it at your desk before doing it in a meeting where you need to pay attention.
You can also keep your stomach tight while walking, this really helps keep pressure and weight out of your low-back. Try walking how you normally walk on hardwood floors so you can hear your foot steps. Pay attention to how it sounds when walking normally. Then try keeping your stomach tight while walking. it should sound a little lighter because your stomach is reducing or absorbing some of the impact. If you run for exercise or do plyometrics (jumping exercises) and feel like you have “heavy” footsteps or landings, try keeping your stomach tight during your running and jumping (but keeping you shoulders relaxed). It might make your foot steps and landings seem less heavy.
If you have a hard time keeping your stomach tight for longer than a few minutes (meaning you can’t keep your stomach tight or you start feeling your low-back tensing up), you should incorporate more abdominal/core exercises in your workouts. The best overall core exercise is called Plank. For the Plank exercise, your hold yourself in a position similar to the top of a pushup. Hands and toes on the floor, wrists right under your shoulders with shoulders pulling back and down your back. First perform this exercise lengthwise in front of a mirror so you can make sure your back is in a straight line, you want a straight line from the top of your head to your tailbone:
One common mistake is letting your low-back sag. This is a mistake because then all the weight is in your low-back and your abdominals, obliques and trans-verse abdominus (TVA) are not working. Try tucking your tailbone under so there is no curve in your low-back. To make this exercise easier, start in plank but then bring your knees to the ground (you’re knees should not be directly under your hips). To make this exercise harder, add movement by pulling alternating knees forward or lifting one toe off the ground:
If you have wrist issues, come down to your elbows:
Don’t forget about your stomach! The more you thinking about keeping your stomach tight during the day, the more it will become a habit. The more you will use your abs, reduce low-back pain and get closer to a wash-board stomach. Also, add the Plank or some version of the Plank exercise to your workout.
As always, contact me with any questions.
Healthy, happy core muscles!