Strengthening Your Core

Part of my weekly exercise routine includes a 10-14 mile bike ride with girlfriends on Monday mornings. When we first began our weekly rides I noticed that for 2-3 days after the ride my neck was really sore. I have always complained about “my weak neck”. Yoga hurts my neck, sit ups kill my neck, and I’ve even noticed a sore neck after extra long walks.

You can imagine how surprised I was when complaining to my oldest daughter (the Pilates instructor) about my neck issues. She said “Mom it’s not your neck it’s your core.  Because your core is weak your neck is trying to help your body get the momentum you desire and it is wearing out your poor neck muscles that weren’t intended for that task.”

Our body core muscles are the central link in a chain connecting our upper and lower body. Whether we are hitting a tennis ball or mopping the floor, the necessary motions either originate in your core, or move through it. And no matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain. Thus, weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs (and even you neck) function. And that saps power from many of the moves you make. Properly building up your core cranks up the power.

Additionally a strong core enhances our balance and stability. My daughter explained that although most of us experience occasional trips, a strong core enables us to correct our motion and stabalize ourselves before we fall all the way to the ground and incur a really serious injury. Most often when older people fall it wasn’t the tripping that caused the serious accident but the weak core that couldn’t stop the hard fall. Thus core strengthening can help prevent falls and injuries. In fact, a strong, flexible core underpins almost everything we do.

While teaching Pilates recently my daughter had a married couple (+ 50 years old) in the class. As part of her instruction she challenged the students to get in a plank position and hold it for 2 minutes straight. She said the wife exclaimed “We can hold it for 6 minutes.” And so the class all did a 2 minute plank and then watched while the older couple continued on. The husband held a plank for a full 6 minutes and the wife went to 7 minutes. Once completed the husband said “I could have gone to 7 but if I did my wife would have tried to go to 8 and she might have hurt herself.” Astounding!

One of my friends from church mentioned to me that she does a 1 minute plank every morning before she gets in the shower just to maintain her core strength.

So you guessed it that is your challenge for this week. Grab a watch and time yourself doing a plank at least once each day. And then try to increase your time. Each day you accomplish this you earn the 5 daily challenge points. As always I encourage you to continue these challenges and make them part of your regular daily routine. Try to eventually (this may take effort beyond our challenge week) work up to a minimum of at least 1 full minute per day.

The photo pictured at the top of this page is a standard plank. Here are two variations if you are unable to do it in standard form. It's always important to begin where you need to begin and respect your edge. Don't push too far and injure yourself and in all of our challenges if you are unable to complete the task e-mail me and we will work out an alternate assignment! Happy planking! 

Some Plank Tips

1. ADJUST YOUR ARMS Keep them in line with wrists, directly beneath shoulders. Shrug off the urge to hunch your shoulders to ears, which makes the move uncomfy and harder to hold. 
2. GET IN LINE Neck should be long, with a 6-inch distance between chin and chest. Look a few inches in front of your hands to align head and spine.
3. STRAIGHEN OUT A flat back is the key to flat abs. The transverse abdominis engages to stabilize the spine and hold you as stiff as a board. If you drop or lift your hips, you let your abs off the hook. Assume the position by a mirror, and do a form check.
4. NO SAGGING Sagging in the middle puts pressure on your lower back. Ouch! Remember: Hips shouldn't dip.
6. NO HIKING-You don't want to hike your hips high, either—that forces quads to take over. The goal: spine in a line.

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