The human body contains an amazing network of muscles, working in coordination with each other to achieve even the simplest of tasks, such as walking.
The powerhouse of that network is your core — you know, all those muscles in the trunk of your body (basically everything except the shoulders, arms and legs) that automatically contract when you slip on ice.
Athletes know the importance of their core. The abs, glutes and muscles around the spine are necessary for all of those dynamic movements in sports performance.
Think about swinging a baseball bat. That rotation through the torso happens through synergistic muscle movement. Same thing happens with swinging a golf club, kicking a soccer ball, and doing the breaststroke.
Athletes need to condition their cores to become better at what they do. But these muscles are also important for the average person, especially when it comes to injury prevention. The weaker your core, the more likely you will be afflicted with lower back pain.
Our office culture has really delivered a blow to core strength. Many of us spend almost eight hours a day hunched over at a computer.
The simplest advice: Get up and take a walk once in a while! This should force you to put your spine into a neutral position.
And while sitting at your desk, check in on your posture from time to time. If you find that you’re slouching: brace your abs, lift your chin, and pull the shoulders slightly back.
There’s much more you can do to strengthen your core. Almost every exercise, from running to bicep curls, works the core, but there are also ways to specifically target these muscles. Here’s a few suggestions.
Planking: Laying horizontal on your elbows and toes with a flat back is a total body exercise that will hit the core hard. Hold this position for as long as you can until you start losing your form. If the toes are too hard to start with, drop down to the knees and work your way up.
The Hip Bridge: This is a great butt exercise. Lay on your back and place your heels close to your rear. Drive the hips up to the ceiling, bringing your chest into your chin. Squeeze your cheeks and hold this position. This will stretch out your hamstrings and quads, and firm up your tush.
Band Pull-Apart: This exercise strengthens the muscles around the spine. All you need is a resistance tube. Simply pull the tube apart, bringing the shoulder blades together. Remember, it’s aesthetics in the front, and all power in the back. A strong back will greatly improve posture, and make day-to-day activities easier.
Derek Nichols is a fitness instructor at Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo.