Anyone who understands the basics of fitness knows that tons of crunches and other core work aren’t going to make your abs visible. The only thing that does that is removing the layer of fat covering them. As proof, I provide the Iggy Pop example. Now, I somehow doubt that in his heyday Iggy went back to his hotel room to do multiple crunches and sit-ups. No, he was too busy shooting heroin and having sex with groupies. And since heroin massively suppresses appetite, this resulted in Iggy having a very low body fat percentage, allowing you to see his abs. He quite possibly is genetically programmed to be slim as well.
Enough about punk music and groupies. Let’s discuss why you should work your core, even if you’ll never be slim enough to see your abs.
As the football player example illustrates, a strong core holds your lower and upper body together, promoting good lower-back health and providing a more stable and powerful platform for a large variety of athletic endeavors.
Here is just a short list of how a strong core can improve performance:
- When running, both your arms and legs pump, which places a lot of stress on your core. When running on uneven or slippery surfaces this is exacerbated. A strong core keeps you stable while running on any surface, preventing a multitude of injuries (outlined below).
- Downhill skiers require strong cores to keep the upper body stable while the lower body executes turns.
- Activities such as hitting a baseball, a golf ball or a hockey puck all derive most of their power from the midsection, rather than from the arms.
You twist your body every which way all day long. You even begin your day with a twist when you swing your legs over the side of the bed to get up in the morning. When you are sitting at your desk and the phone rings you likely twist to answer it. You twist to pick up children, to scrub that bit of goo off the floor under the kitchen table, when someone calls your name, when you get in and out of the car and so on. The role of core muscles is to hold your spine stable and strengthen the connection between upper and lower body parts. If you have weak core muscles, more stress is placed on the spine and, specifically, on the discs between vertebrae while doing these types of activities. If inordinately stressed, these discs can rupture, leading to a world of hurt.
The muscles of your midsection are absolutely critical to healthy function for a wide variety of daily activities and sports. As a guy with a couple of bulging discs in his low back, I can attest to the fact of how strengthening these muscles have dramatically improved my own health and well-being.
But don’t just take my word for it. Many researchers are extolling the virtues of core-strengthening for injury prevention and good health:
- A 2007 article in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology determined that core-strengthening helped prevent injuries in workers whose jobs involved awkward positions. Did your mind just go some place dirty? Mine did.
- In the 2007 book Evidence-Based Sports Medicine, researchers revealed that imbalance and delayed activation of core muscles were correlated with low back pain, and that “core stabilization exercises were found to be more effective than manual therapy alone, medical management alone, and other common exercise programs in reducing pain and improving functional disability associated with acute and chronic LBP [low back pain].”
- A research analysis on the role of core strength and running injuries determined, “weaknesses in the core muscles are associated with lower limb injuries such as patellofemoral pain, ITB friction syndrome, medial tibial stress syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fascitiitis, and lower leg stress fracture.”
So, how do you strengthen your core? I’m running out of space, so you’ll just have to wait for my next article.
James S. Fell is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a middle-aged family man with a desk job and not much free time, yet he’s able to keep in shape because he loves exercise and doesn’t mind eating healthy. He is the author of Body for Wife: The Family Guy’s Guide to Getting in Shape.