The core (no pun intended) to your workout is core workouts. (Photo: Cristian Baron, StockSnap)

I’ve known plenty of guys over the years who only focused on various arm exercises during workouts and often skipped leg days. A couple have gone a step further and focused only on their biceps and triceps. I think we all understand how it happens. People care about their glamour muscles most. The whole point of working out, if we’re being entirely honest, is more about looking good than being healthy, isn’t it?

Our priorities go from arms to legs to core. We know, in theory, how important it is to strengthen our cores, but the cynical side of us may wonder what we really get out of doing that. Below, I’ll discuss some of the reasons strengthening your core should be a priority, both for your health and for your physical appearance.

What is your core, anyway?

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Your core includes those six-pack abs we all dream of having, but it’s certainly much more than that. Your core includes your midsection, back muscles, pelvic muscles and lower lats. These muscles are also the ones we’re most likely to neglect.

While we can move our arms or legs this way or that during exercises or everyday life, our core always remains our core. It can’t really go anywhere, can it? We can twist and bend it, but that’s about it. So it’s important that our core, our center of gravity, is solid. It keeps the rest the body’s motions secure, even the unexpected ones.

What’s so important about your core?
The first step to having a strong core requires us to focus on our stability. Without this, we’re more prone to injuries or accidents. Think of creating core stability as a preventive measure. We never can be sure what life has in store for us. We may live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, but when weekend life happens, we may get stuck moving furniture and fixing broken appliances around the house.

Without adequate core stability, will your body be able to handle all the unexpected twists and turns? Remember, there are hundreds of muscles in your body. When you go weeks, months or years barely using some of them, it’s quite a shock to your system when the time comes that you need these muscles again.

Your core and visceral fat
I’ve mentioned before how carrying around excess visceral fat is dangerous to your health. It can cause extra strain on your internal organs and blood vessels. It can also lead to metabolic changes, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and elevated cholesterol levels. Core instability may not result in these same complications, but it’s equally problematic to ignore your core. After all, have aches and pains ever put anyone in a good mood?

Core stability really does decrease your risk of injury. It won’t remove visceral fat, but it gives you the necessary base to go to the gym and work it off. This website does a great job of explaining what you can do in greater detail, and it offers a way to test your own core stability.

How do you start strengthening your core?
If you’re just starting to work on strengthening your core, it’s important to start slowly and work your way up to more serious exercises. While a strong core can help prevent backache, muscle soreness and risk of injury, overdoing your core exercises too soon can have the opposite effect.

The best exercise for your core is planks, because they work out all your core muscles, with the added benefit of including some of the muscles in your arms and legs. There are tons of variations and different options that don’t require equipment.

Picking the right exercises
Situps and crunches are useful and effective options. However, these alone don’t do enough to strengthen your entire core, which should be your goal. It’s important to mix up the motions. Pick a mixture of exercises that involve sitting, standing and lying down. Your body needs to twist as well as be pulled up or down. Variation remains essential.

The Mayo Clinic offers slideshows of various exercises you can try. These can prove difficult and be straining at first, but there’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself. When I’m doing planks, I go until my entire body is shaking. That’s how I know my muscles are being forced to work hard! But if you start to feel pain, you need to stop the exercise immediately.

We’ve all heard the adage “no pain, no gain,” but I’ve taken this too far in the past and ended up hurting myself. It’s a fine line between giving it your all and going too far. Still, when you’re new at certain physical activities, it’s always best to stay on the conservative side.

How to get started
One of the simplest ways to burn extra calories during the day and strengthen your core is to replace your office chair with an exercise ball. This has helped my core immensely. When I recently spent a couple of weeks back in a chair only, I definitely noticed a difference in how solid my core felt. So I would recommend that as everyone’s first step.

You can find more detailed information on beginner’s exercises here. If you can, it’s best to spend two to three days a week focused on core exercise. Many people often combine core and leg days into one. This makes plenty of sense, but it’s not a requirement to follow that script. Do as much as you can as often as you can. When moving day comes unexpectedly or you get stuck crawling under your house to fix a leak, you’ll be glad you prioritized your core. You never know when that stability will come in handy.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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