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Exercise and Your Core Stability

Fitness expert Minna Lessig tells us about the importance to our health of maintaining our core stability, keeping the spine straight and elongated. She also shows us the secret to a better workout.

What Is The Core?

The muscles comprising the core stabilizers are your abdominal muscles and your lower back muscles. The gluteus medius, minimus and hip flexors, like psoas, are also responsible for stabilization of the pelvic girdle.

What Is Core Stability?

Core stability is the ability to keep your spine straight, or elongated, from your tailbone to the top of your head, while keeping your shoulders and hips level and in line. Your core is your base support, not just in workouts but in everyday life. To move your body most effectively, you must keep your core stable. Common examples of people using their core stability include a surfer balancing on his surfboard, or a gymnast performing skill moves on the balance beam. To improve your core stability, you must be aware of where your body is in relation to external objects and the ground, as well as where your body parts are in relation to each other.

Benefits Of Having Strong Core Stability:

There's less chance of injuries, more efficient use of muscle power (because of less energy wasted on compensatory movements in the trunk region), improved balance and muscle co-ordination, increased ability to change directions, etc. Everything improves -- from workouts in the gym, to skill level in sports, to daily life tasks. For example, in everyday life, it can help you with your posture.

How Do We Strengthen Out Core?

Strengthening your core involves challenging your ability to stabilize your core by putting yourself in a position of relative instability. The fitness balls, slide boards, yoga, tai chi, and pilates all improve core stability because their movements are based on this.

Knowing how to keep your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles contracted simultaneously, or "braced," is the focal point in core stability exercises.

Most people cannot maintain this abdominal / lower back brace very long while sitting in a chair let alone during activity. So for beginners:

1. Stand comfortably and place one hand on abdomen, the other on the lower back. Squeeze the abdominal muscles inward so that the pelvis tilts backward, this is called pelvic tilt.

2. Then, do opposite motion - contract your low back muscles so that pelvis tilts forward.

3. Combine - contract both abdominal and low back, not so that you are rigid, but so that you feel "braced" or supported.

You Can Only Be As Strong As Your Weakest Link!

Even if your arms and legs are strong, a weak link in your core will negatively effect your strength during dynamic full body movements. For example, running with a weak core can slow you down. Here's why: as the arm action aids in propelling the body forward, and the egs drive the body off the ground, a rotational force on the trunk is created. That force can slow you down. A strong core means you have less trunk rotation because of better control; so, you'll run faster.

Sit-ups don't do it! Sit-ups train the abdominal muscles to be mobilizers,or muscles that create motion. If you do only sit-ups, you are only strengthening the trunk flexing muscles. To train the abdominal for core stability, you need to do exercises that require the bracing action of the trunk, pelvis, and shoulders while introducing resistance from the legs, arms, or gravity.

Just being aware of your abdominal and lower back during the day and doing Keigos while sitting at desk or driving will help increase your core stability!

The Brace: Contract both the abdominal and lower back simultaneously. This provides a braced feeling, like that of wearing a weight belt. Every move in yoga, pilates, and tai chi, etc, revolves around this ability to brace your center.

Boat Pse: This is a yoga posture done sitting. It's a visually pretty exercise.

Heel Taps: This is done lying on your stomach. It's a pilates-based move that strengthens your lower back and butt.

Balance/Strength Work: On all fours, lift the same arm and leg off the floor and hold. This strengthens the abs, lower back, hamstrings, glutes, etc.

Scissors: This is specifically for you abs - and it's an exercise I do in my videos. You're on your back and you open up the arms and legs like scissors as you stay lifted in an abdominal contraction.
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