Photo: Laurent Darmon/Trunk
Most people focus on training the muscles they see in the mirror (or in a selfie). Have you ever heard anyone whine, “Wow, I wish I had spinal muscles like hers?” Instead they talk about their biceps, or “six pack.” But a strong core is so much more than just washboard abs: it’s the center of the body, from where all other movement stems. Lindsay Lopez, pilates expert and owner of Form Pilates, says “core exercises improve our posture and balance by stabilizing the skeleton to keep us upright throughout the day.”
First of all, that six-pack is actually one long abdominal muscle—and it can be chiseled into an eight-pack if you’re an over-achiever. But the key to strengthening that muscle is working all of the muscles between your hips and shoulders, from front to back. They’re the muscles that support the vital organs, connect the upper and lower body, and coordinate the movement of the arms, legs, and spine. Most people focus on what’s in front, but your back muscles offer the support you need. Without them, injuries happen.
Traditionally, we’ve been taught to do old-school crunches to strengthen the abs, but they’re about as exciting as a spin class—without music. The most effective core exercises are those that engage several muscles in the core to work together, like a plank in all its forms, from side to forearm. Lopez suggests learning The Hundred; it’s the quintessential Pilates exercise. “It’s a great warm-up; gets the blood pumping, the breath moving, and builds a ton of core strength,” she says.
Start by lying on your back, with your palms facing down by your hips. Bend your knees in toward your chest, with your knees over your hips and your shins parallel to the floor. Curl your upper body off the mat a few inches, and pull your navel in toward your spine to engage your core. Begin pumping your straight arms up and down, without touching the floor. Inhale for five counts. Exhale for five counts. Repeat ten times to make 100. Keep your eyes focused on your abdominals, engaging the entire time.
If you’re still not convinced of the importance of a strong core, I’ll leave you with this: weak core muscles can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction. Translation: lack of bladder control.