A strong core does far more than make you look good. The core, or abdominal, muscles are crucial for supporting the back and spine, especially as we age. Stability, balance, flexibility and strength of movement also depends, in large part, on strong abs. Since the core is so important to maintaining healthy musculoskeletal alignment and pain-free movement, we asked several local experts to offer their perspectives on building a strong core.
Alison Allman, a certified health fitness specialist with Wellbridge Athletic Club and Spa, recommends imagining the core as a barrel that includes the back, sides and front of the torso. “Variety is key,” she notes. “Rather than 100 ‘crunches,’ do four abdominal exercises of 15 to 20 reps.”
Exercises that challenge balance, such as working on wobble boards or standing on one leg, also challenge the core, working those muscles to stabilize the body, Allman says. And she stresses that you cannot ‘spot-reduce’ to get that stomach flat. “Overall weight loss will promote the loss of belly fat, which will, in turn, reveal those strong abdominal muscles.”
Dale Huff, owner of Nutriformance, agrees that a multi-part approach is best when seeking to whittle the waist. “Several research studies tout the benefit of a high-protein and high-dairy diet (three or more servings per day) to target abdominal fat and total body fat,” he says. “Incorporating soluble fiber and safflower oil into your daily diet can not only help reduce midsection fat, it can also reduce insulin resistance and promote healthy cholesterol levels.”
When it comes to working out, Huff emphasizes the importance of cardiovascular exercise. “Basic cardiovascular training is great for targeting abdominal fat that lies deep inside the abdominal cavity,” he says. “This is great news for those who are striving to improve fitness. As long as you can build up to 30 or more minutes several times week of moderate cardiovascular activity, you can burn abdominal fat.”
Yet Huff also promotes metabolic training, a type of exercise that focuses on working large muscle groups at high intensity. Because the muscles require increased oxygen during re-covery from metabolic training, more calories are burned in the hours following a workout.
“Cardiovascular exercise doesn’t require the post-workout extra caloric burn that is required of metabolic training, giving it the advantage over traditional cardiovascular exercise,” he says. “Because of the multi-joint movement patterns, there’s no need to do a bunch of core-focused floor exercises. The core is busy stabilizing, providing energy transfer (from the ground to the upper body, for example), resisting rotation, flexing, extending, etc.”
Anne Thomasson, owner of Body Fusion & The Movement Center, specializes in the Gyrotonic workout method, which she says is both core strengthening and stabilizing. “The energy moves from your core outward, so you engage your core differently than any other system out there. You focus on spinal alignment and allow the body to rotate in every possible direction,” she explains. “It’s the best thing I’ve found, and I’ve tried it all, including yoga and Pilates.”
Craig Marcacci, a personal trainer and owner of CM Fitness, also focuses on the core’s role in proper body alignment. “Weak abs create a pelvic tilt that is a misalignment, by definition,” he says. “If your lower back is tight, that creates a forward pelvic tilt, which impinges the lower back.” Knees, ankles and shoulders also suffer from the misalignment created by a weak core. Both strengthening and stretching are important to correcting musculoskeletal misalignment and improving overall health and fitness, he adds.
Whatever modality you choose, working with a professional to improve core strength can have remarkably positive results for both your appearance and your ability to move through life with ease.