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Got a question about some aspect of mind-body-spirit fitness? Ask! It can be as earthly as "Can a heart monitor really enhance my workout?" (the short answer to that is yes) or as heady as, "Don't I need to sell all my worldly goods and go live on a mountain top to find enlightenment?" (the short answer here is no). Needless to say, we can't answer every question we receive, but we will take one every month and answer it here. If you've got a burning need to know about something, email us, and you may find your query featured next time around.


What is this "core" that everyone's talking about and why is it so important? Can't I just do some crunches for my abs and leave it at that?

Core strength has been something of a missing link when it comes to fitness and exercise. The reason why people have paid so little attention to it is that there's nothing flashy or glamorous about it. Although it involves the abs, core strength is not about having a visible six-pack or a flat stomach. And while the core muscles, as stabilizers, can help determine how far you can throw a ball, their development is often secondary to the other, more obvious (and more visible) muscles in your limbs. The only people who have had the right idea about core strength all this time are dancers and Yoga practitioners. They've developed their core as part of their training, and it shows - professional dancers and Yogis generally stay fit well into old age. They stand straighter and have more energy at a time when many of their peers can just hobble along.

(Article continued below.)

The core muscles include not only those in your abdominals and back, but also muscles in your pelvic floor and hips. Many of your core muscles can't be seen because they're buried underneath other muscles. The transverse abdominis, for example, is hiding underneath your rectus abdominis (your six-pack, if you've got one) and encases, or hugs the whole area below the belly button. While the rectus abdominis is sitting on top looking good (that is, if you've been doing your crunches), the transverse abdominis is working hard, keeping your posture upright and protecting many of your internal organs. You can't see the erector spinae, either - it's behind you, supporting your back. And did you know that those pelvic floor muscles aid in stabilizing your spine? All these muscles, and more, work together to keep your trunk stable while your limbs are active. Strong core muscles keep your back healthy. They hold your body upright, improve your balance and enable you to really put some oomph in your arm and leg movements. If the core muscles are weak, your body doesn't work as effectively, and other muscles have to pick up the slack. This can result in injuries such as a twisted knee, a pulled shoulder, or your classic "bad back." A weak core can make you old before your time. With a strong core, you may be old in years, but you won't walk old. If you're young and active in sports, a strong core will aid you in your power moves, and your whole body will function more effectively.

Next page >> Working That Core! >> Page 1, 2

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