Whether it is running, swimming, weight lifting or aerobics, fitness experts say the centre of all exercise routines is the core – the abdominal, back and muscles around the pelvis – which is the seat of stability, strength and power.
Adding in exercise routines to strengthen the core can help the athlete run faster, the basketball player jump higher and the everyday exerciser do routine tasks from loading the car to cleaning the bath more easily.
“The core is everything except for arms, legs and head,” said Daniel Taylor, co-author with Greg Brittenham of a new book Conditioning to the Core.
It is the mainstay of the body, according to Taylor, who is the head strength and conditioning coach at Siena College in New York.
“People need to get away from saying ‘I’m going to do abs today’ and take a larger view,” said Taylor, whose book contains more than 300 exercises, ranging from planks, squats and lunges to medicine ball and kettlebell throws presented in progressive routines.
“A lot of times people get stuck in one or two routines and get good at them,” he said. “You’ve got to make things more challenging to keep progressing.”
Taylor said everything is linked to the core.
“If you jump it’s transferred to the core. If you want to be a better recreational running, strengthening the core will help because your anchor is better,” he explained.
The body’s girdle is how New York City-based personal trainer JR Allen describes the core.
Celebrity trainee Allen, whose clients include singer Mary J. Blige, said even the breath is involved in core work.
“It’s not about sucking in the stomach but about tightening,” says Allen. “If you watch a boxer before a punch, he’ll make a whistling sound. That’s to engage the transverse abdominals (the front and side muscles of the abdominal wall).”
Allen, a former body builder takes a personal approach to training.
“One of my favourite things to do is agility drills,” he said. “Squat jumps, alternating lunges with jumps and power skips: those types of dynamic movements target your core.”
Taylor said a mere 20-minute core workout, involving as few as four rotating exercises in a circuit, serves as a good warm up for most activities, from lifting weights to playing rugby.
“You don’t have to destroy yourself. You don’t have to do it for hours, you don’t need to exercise for a thousand repetitions. But if you keep doing it you’ll be stronger, better toned, with better posture,” he said. “And maybe your running times will have improved.”