When our ultimate goal is weight loss, it can be tempting to go for those large muscle groups that burn the most calories like legs & gluteals, but there are some really important reasons why including core exercises in your workout routine is going to benefit you.
What are core muscles?
Your core includes a complex set of muscles that doesn’t include legs/arms, and that act to stabilize your spine, keep you balanced, and absorb forces from movement of larger muscles like in the arms and legs. They include abdominal muscles, multifidus (that runs along your spine), pelvic floor muscles, your diaphragm, muscles in your back and hips, and a series of other small deep muscles.
Reduced injury risk
If you are regularly exercising, there will be decreased risk of injury such as from falls if your core is strong, as this will help you stay balanced, react to unstable surfaces such as an uneven path, or sudden changes in direction- such as a tennis ball heading in the opposite direction you were running towards. In the older population, risk of falls is a significant concern as fractures can occur with poor outcomes, and so any measures to improve balance and ability to perform activities of daily living are important to include regularly.
A flatter midsection
Rather than spot reducing the fat in your midsection, what working your core muscles can do is result in stronger, more toned muscles, pulling things in a little so even if your body fat % doesn’t change, you can appear leaner as everything is held in a little tighter. Tense your abdominals. Now relax them completely. Notice the difference? If you work your core, those muscles will stay more tensed automatically through the day, and you may see your belt come in a notch or two.
Pelvic floor control
Light bladder leakage is extremely common in women, especially in those post child bearing years. Coughing, laughing, sneezing, or lifting can all result in the involuntary loss of urine. Kegel exercises, that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles can reduce or eliminate light bladder leakage over time, can result in shorter labour during pregnancy and better recovery, and reduce or eliminate issues with bowel incontinence.
Fighting the effects of a desk job
A larger and larger proportion of us are finding work which is sedentary- technology has progressed to a point where a lot of the things that used to require physical movement is now automated for us. Few of us are walking down to the garden to dig for potatoes from the garden for our dinner, we are pulling a packet of pre-cut chips from the freezer. We aren’t going outside and working in the fields all day, or hunting for meat, or on our feet all day gathering fruit and nuts- we are sitting behind a computer screen for 8 hours a day. The result of this inactivity is that our core muscles are relaxed most of the day, and become weak. It’s important we make a particular effort to work our core since we aren’t getting this from our regular daily activities.
What are core exercises?
Think body weight exercises rather than trying to work each individual muscle. Anything that requires you do work to stay balanced- balancing on one foot, or a fit ball, wobble boards, walking along a low balance beam, or holding your body in one position against a force such as gravity, wind, or water (like a current, or waves). Yoga is wonderful for strengthening core muscles, as is any sport that requires rapid changes in direction. Activate your core by pulling your belly button in towards your spine. You can even do this sitting at your desk, with good posture for a few minutes at a time, and why not sneak in some Kegel exercise while you are at it- nobody will even know. Try to take lots of breaks from sitting through the day- walk around, climb a few stairs, clean up a bit, or reorganize some boxes. Every little bit counts.