Strong abdominals not only give a slim, fit appearance, they are also your spine’s main support system and are vital to good posture. When contracted, the abdominal muscles unload pressure from the spine. But strong abdominals are only part of the equation – a strong torso also includes strong back and gluteal (buttocks) muscles. The concept of “core exercise” involves the functional training of all of the torso muscles through their full range of motion. The emphasis is on developing trunk stabilization rather than “washboard abs”.
As you age, the loss of muscle tone, hormonal changes and overindulgence can lead to an accumulation of fat around your midsection. Despite what the infomercials claim, abdominal exercises alone won’t reduce excess abdominal fat – no matter how many you do. In fact, if you have a lot of abdominal fat, building your stomach muscles without losing the fat on top will only make your belly appear bigger! Your best bet is combining aerobic exercise (minimum of 20 to 30 minutes, three times per week), strength training for the entire body and a balancedlow-glycemic, nutritious meal plan. Furthermore, skimping on sleep raises your level of cortisol – a stress hormone that increases insulin levels and signals your body to store excess calories as fat.
Suggested Exercises: Start with 10 repetitions of 2 or more of the following exercises. In addition, pull your abdominals in whenever you think of it – “zipping up” the abdominals as though zipping a snug pair of pants.
Lie flat on the floor (on a mat or in bed) with your lower back pressed downward, arms by your side. Cross your ankles and lift your legs keeping your knees bent. Slowly lift your hips one to two inches off the mat. Hold and squeeze your ab muscles, keeping your shoulders and head on the mat. Lower your hips with a controlled motion.
Lie flat on the floor (on a mat or in bed) with your lower back pressed downward, hands behind your head. Cross your ankles and lift your legs keeping your knees bent. Slowly lift your hips one to two inches off the mat and at the same time lift your head, neck and shoulders off the mat, making a “clamshell” shape with your body. Hold for a moment as your squeeze your abdominal muscles and then lower your body to the floor.
Lie flat on the floor (on a mat or in bed) with your lower back pressed downward, hands behind your head. Bring your knees up to a 45-degree angle. Slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion (bending and straightening the legs) as you alternate touching your left elbow to your right knee and your right elbow to your left knee.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands clasped behind your head and elbows pointed out to your sides. Straighten left leg as you lift right leg, knee bent, and thigh parallel to floor. Keeping knee lifted and steady, twist torso toward the right. Return to the start and repeat on other side then alternate back and forth.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands clasped behind your head and elbows pointed out to the sides. Lift your right leg to the side, with your knee bent, your thigh parallel to the floor. Keeping your knee lifted, bend your torso to the right side, bringing your elbow and knee toward each other. Keep alternating sides.
In a future post I will discuss core training with an exercise ball - in my opinion one of the best ways to work the trunk muscles safely and effectively.