Recently, I had surgery to repair the umbilical hernia I had lived with for 9 years. I was happy to finally get it taken care of, but recovery has been rough. It did teach me a very important lesson that I want to convey to you: you use your core muscles for everything!
You have probably heard/read/seen me talking about the importance of a strong core for runners, but this experience made me realize just how important it really is in life in general. Sneezing, coughing, laughing, getting up and down from the couch or bed, picking things up, going up and down stairs, even riding in a car cause you to use your abs to stability, balance, and/or strength.
First of all, let’s talk about what the “core” consists of. Most people use “core” interchangeably with “abs”, but it is really so much more than that.
First of all, there are actually 4 abdominal muscles. The outer most muscle, what we refer to as the six-pack, is the rectus abdominis. On our sides we have the external and the internal obliques. Then, deep down, providing protection and stability, is the transverse abdominis. While it may not be the muscle that impresses on the beach, it is of utmost importance for a strong core.
Along with the ab muscles, the core is also made up of the muscles around the spine and hips. All these muscles are the groups that flex the spine (the abs), extend the spine, flex the hips, and extend the hips. They provide stability to the whole body.
Why do we need a strong core?
Like I said, a strong core provides stability. This stability helps with balance, and protects against falls.
A strong core also prevents back pain by protecting, stabilizing and strengthening the spine.
Having a strong, stable spine builds good posture, especially when you are spending a lot of time on the computer. While posture may not be something you think about relating to running, having a strong core to help you stay upright while running will help you run better, and also prevent back soreness after being out for miles.
Finally, a strong core will help you move more efficiently and effectively throughout your daily life, as well as in the gym.
So, the big question is, what should we do to safely build a strong core? Sit-ups? NO! Crunches? Maybe occasionally, and there are some crunch variations that I do like.
We need to think about working the deep core, and the all-around core. Sit-ups are basically for your rectus abdominis, and don’t benefit (and can even harm) the other muscles.
One simple thing to do as often as possible is spending time walking vigorously (I know, that can be hard for runners). As I mentioned here, walking somewhat quickly with your arms swinging is great for your core.
Planks are great, and have so many variations. They can be done on your toes or your knees, as long as you are making a straight line from whichever is touching the ground up to you head. Variations are on your hands, on your elbows, one side at a time, and various moves while in plank position.
Another group of exercise are done on your hands and knees: donkey kicks, bird dogs, and the ignominiously named fire hydrants (raising your leg to the side like a dog, uh… yeah). Then there are the moves done flat on your stomach, such as superman, swimmers, and prone cobra.
There are some weighted moves too, such as the deadlift, good morning, hip thrust, and flyes. Even squats help build strength in the core. These are all moves that a) need weight, which means b) should have a coach to check form.
At this point, I am still awaiting my post-op appointment and permission to start working out again. But when I can, let me tell you, I will be making sure to include core moves in every workout, and maybe some extra in between. I hope you will do the same!