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Natural Awakenings

Middle Management: Quest for Inner Strength Key to Core Fitness

Mar 01, 2007 07:20PM ● By Paula Felps

In an age of belly-baring baby T’s and low-slung jeans, the search for perfect abs has become a seemingly universal quest. But flying in the face of our best intentions and wishful thinking, that taut, toned midsection of youth eventually, inevitably surrenders to time and gravity. We know we want it. Now we know that our need for a tight torso goes beyond simple vanity.

“Core strength is essential for optimum good health,” explains Dallas-based chiropractor Jean Achterberg. Among other benefits, “having a strong core minimizes low back pain and injuries.”

“The core” collectively refers to the body’s abdominal and back muscles. Core fitness exercises help develop pelvic stability and abdominal control. Effectively developing a strong back creates strong abs, and vice versa. Both are crucial to looking good, and feeling good as well.

“Focusing on core strength training is probably the single best use of your exercise time,” Dr. Achterberg says. “If I only had 15 minutes to spend in the gym, I’d spend it on core fitness.” Anyone looking to start any kind of fitness program should first begin with core fitness.

She notes that whether we’re sitting at a desk or doing laundry or bicep curls, we’re always using our core, so keeping it strong is essential.

Achterberg notes that the sedentary character of contemporary society has made such training more important than ever before. “We’re sitting at our desks, in our cars, and at home. That’s a lot of pressure on the discs and nervous system, and people who don’t maintain good core strength leave themselves vulnerable to injury,” she says. “Without core fitness, there’s a loss of mechanical balance and degeneration of the tissue.”

Among rookie and veteran exercisers, back injuries are common and usually could be avoided. Strengthening muscles that support the spine helps ward off such injuries.

Core fitness training also serves up a number of side benefits, including increased energy, improved posture, a trimmer body and greater muscle strength. Not only can previous back pain symptoms disappear, but the body experiences an overall boost in strength.

The good news is that everyone can begin working on core fitness at any age–and get noticeable results.

Core Fitness Options

Pilates – Originally used by dancers or for recovery from injury, Pilates has become the darling of the contemporary fitness scene. Renowned for its focus on strengthening the body’s core, Pilates is an excellent way to build strength while creating a sleeker physique.

Yoga – Some forms of yoga are perfect for building core strength. Power yoga, in particular, will help concentrate exercisers’ efforts on back and abdominal muscles while providing plenty of cardiovascular benefits.

Martial Arts – From tae kwon do and kung fu to karate and tai chi, martial arts is a great way to build core strength. Different arts suit various shapes, sizes and interest levels. Beginners absent a regular fitness routine often begin with tai chi and work their way up to more challenging levels.

Stability Ball – Also known as a Swiss ball, these large, lightweight, often-colorful balls have shown up in fitness centers, homes and offices. Doing basic yoga or Pilates exercises on a stability ball demands that the body keep more muscles engaged in order for the exerciser not to lose his or her balance. (It can also be used in lieu of a computer chair, which amazingly enough puts ab muscles to work without even hitting the gym.)

Hula-hooping – This schoolyard pastime has grown up, bringing with it larger, lighter hoops and a truly fun way to tighten and strengthen the body’s center. Look for hoop dancing classes at local fitness centers.

Belly dancing – Ranking among the world’s oldest traditions, bellydancing combines enticing moves with abdominal and pelvic movements that build deep core abdominal strength. Look for classes that pursue this dance as a form of fitness as well as fun.

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