Many of you know that the fitness aspect of Mountain Trek’s program is broken down into five components: flexibility, cardio, strength, core stability and, of course, fun. In this article we’re going to talk about the fourth component, namely your core muscles, and why they’re so important. We’re also going to share some of the best exercises for strengthening them.
Strength training is all about building lean muscle mass to help raise your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and create a favorable metabolic environment for fat loss. As we age, we’re prone to muscle loss (a 50 year old person can lose 0.4 pounds of muscle every year). Compound that with muscle loss due to a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle and we start storing more calories than we’re burning.
By strengthening our muscles we burn more calories (1 lb of muscle burns 6 cal/day just resting vs. 1 lb of adipose (fat) at 2 cal/day).
In today’s modern world, many of us find ourselves sitting for prolonged amounts of time, whether at our office desks, in planes or during our daily commute. This sedentarism is not good for our core muscles, nor is it good for our bodies overall. (Read more about the dangers of sitting in our article “Why sitting is bad for you and 5 ways to fix it.”)
The good news is there are easy exercises we can do to curb this sedentarism and strengthen our core muscles, ensuring we maintain good posture and avoid injury.
WHAT ARE YOUR CORE MUSCLES?
When most people think “core muscles” they envision six-pack abs like the kind you’d find on a Calvin Klein model. But the fact is your core is a series of muscles that extend far beyond your abdominals and include most everything in your torso.
Your core has three-dimensional depth and functional movement in all three planes of motion and many of the muscles that make up our core are hidden beneath the exterior musculature of our bodies, which people typically train. (Because they want those Calvin Klein abs.) The deeper muscles include the transverse abdominals, multifidus, diaphragm and the pelvic floor among others.
WHAT DO YOUR CORE MUSCLES DO?
The core is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. These muscles can act as an isometric or dynamic stabilizer for movement, transfer force from one extremity to another, or initiate movement itself.
By reclaiming the stabilizing muscles of posture, balance and power, we help prevent ourselves from falling and causing injury to other parts of our body, including our spine. In fact, many people in today’s society suffer from back pain, largely because their core muscles have atrophied and their spines and skeletons are forced to bear the brunt of their movement.
HOW DO YOU STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE MUSCLES?
At Mountain Trek, we offer fitness classes specific to strengthening the core group of muscles. Many of you might remember holding a plank pose while Cathy gleefully called out, “Only 10 more seconds!” In that class, having an exercise ball was mandatory but for this article we’re just going to concentrate on those poses that you can do anywhere there’s flat ground.
It’s important to remember to always warm up before engaging in these exercises by doing some light yoga poses and/or jumping jacks and shoulder rolls. It also helps to have a yoga mat underneath you for many of these. Oh, and always remember to breathe through these exercises!
#1. Horse Stance
Kneel with your knees and hands on the ground. Your arms should be straight and under your shoulders and your back should be perfectly straight as well. Lift one hand and opposite knee and hold for 5 seconds. Switch to the other hand and knee. Repeat 5 times. (Advanced: extend your leg and arm at 45° with your thumb up.)
#2. Lower Back Press
Lie on the floor and place your hand between the small of your back and the floor and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Lift one leg ensuring you press the small of your back into your hand and then slowly lower the leg. Do the same for the other leg. Repeat 10 times. (Advanced: Lift both legs at the same time and rotate them as if you were riding a bicycle. Make sure to keep your movements slow.)
Lie on the floor face down then rise up onto your elbows and your knees, ensuring your back is a straight line between your head and your knees. Hold this pose for 10 seconds then release and gently lower back down to the ground. Repeat 5 times. (Advanced: Rise up onto your hands and toes and hold for 10 seconds eventually building up to a minute or more.)