Raise your hand if you love to work your core. Raise your hand if you know what “core” really means. Uh huh…that’s what I thought. It’s such a nebulous term, isn’t it? I mean, what am I? An apple? A planet?
A few years back, core became a a fitness buzz-word and it’s been thrown around since. From pure context, I deduced that my “core” resided somewhere between my collarbones and my ankles.
I was able to narrow it down a bit and began to believe that core = abs. But since I LOATHED ab exercises suffice it to say I worked my core pretty much…um…infrequently never. I developed a bad association with the term. You said “core”, I heard “endless crunches” and…you lost me.
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But, happily, that is not where this story ends. I’ve since abandoned the “core = abs” belief. Not surprisingly, I abandoned it right about the time that the wheels started to fall off the proverbial wagon – everything (pretty much from my collarbones to my ankles) started to get cranky. Low back pain, hip soreness, knee weirdness, poor breath control, and terribly achy and slouchy posture. I wanted to chalk it up to age but I was only 28 years old, which was frightening when I considered what that would mean for me when I was 65.
The worst part: it was often uncomfortable to work out. Just as I was about to resign myself to the idea that “working out and running just aren’t for me”, I found — and subsequently fell in love with — the holy grail of core exercises. The Plank. And all its marvelous variations. Game changer!
Fast forward a few years when I first started training others. I realized quickly that not everyone harbored an intense hatred of ab exercises the way that I had. Astonishingly, many people actually loved them! And they performed them in abundance, often daily, 100 crunches a day and all that. They would talk about their superior “core strength and power” and in the same breath note their crippling low back and knee pain — all while I was taking note of their horribly dysfunctional posture. It didn’t take long for me to recognize just how poorly educated people are about the core.
It turns out, you actually CAN do 100 crunches per day and still have a weak, lazy core. Why? Because your core is SO much more than just your abs. Your core also includes the muscles in your back, glutes, and hips which are most often working isometrically to stabilize your spine and pelvis while helping you to breathe efficiently.
So if crunches aren’t a good gauge of core strength, what is? I’ve developed a 3-part test that’ll get you an answer.
1. Can you execute a proper push-up? Whether you start on your knees or on your toes is irrelevant. The only thing I care about is whether or not you’re able to push your body off the floor (bottom of the push-up) without sagging in the middle? In other words, when lying on the floor with your hands directly under your shoulders, elbows squeezed in tight to your body, can you press yourself up to a push-up position (knees or toes) with your hips and shoulders coming off the ground at the same time in a straight line? Yes = 1 point. No = 0 points.
2. Can you hold a plank? Grab a stopwatch and get into a low plank position on your forearms. Hold the plank for as long as you can with good form (straight line from the crown of your head through your shoulders, hips and heels). Stop the timer once your hips start to sag. 0-30 seconds = 0 points. 30-60 seconds = 1 point. 60-90 seconds – 2 points. 90-120 seconds – 3 points.
3. How’s your balance? Grab a stopwatch and close your eyes. Lift one foot off the floor. Try to balance as long as you can with your eyes closed. Repeat with the opposite leg. Take your time from the longest standing leg. 0-10 seconds = 0 point. 11 or more seconds = 1 point.
So, how’d you do on the test? If you scored 2 or fewer points, your core is probably weak and in need of strengthening. (Tell me how you did in the comments section and let’s discuss it.)
For those of you who didn’t score so well on this test, don’t you worry! I’ve got the moves that’ll get your core firing on all cylinders ASAP and I plan to share them with you in my next post so stay tuned…