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Strengthen Your Core Muscles

The body's balance and co-ordination deteriorate as we get older. This makes it all the more important to train the core muscles as the muscles that surround the trunk are called.

Without strong trunk muscles, you're more likely to :-

  • suffer from chronic back pain,
  • lose your balance and fall,
  • be more prone to injury when doing other workout routines.

"Your core is the essence of everything you do, from your day-to-day activities, to your athletic pursuits," says Steven Ehasz, MES, CSCS, exercise physiologist and wellness co-ordinator for the University of Maryland Medical System. "It doesn't matter how strong your arms and legs are if the muscles they're attached to aren't equally as strong."

A strong core is also responsible for your sense of balance. "Balance not only requires equilibrium, but also good stability of the core muscles and the joints, particularly the hip, knee, and ankle," says Leigh Crews, spokes-person for the American Council on Exercise.

Ways to get balance and stability training include balance boards, stability balls, the Reebok Core Board, Bosu (which stands for "both sides up") balls, as well as yoga and other forms of mind-body training and martial arts, such as Pilates and tai chi.

Maintaining one's balance (equilibrium, physical stability, or steadiness), is primarily co-ordinated by three systems, explains Gerry Green, director of the Fitness Center at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J.

  • The first is the vestibular or auditory system, located in the inner ear, which acts like a "carpenter's balance" to keep you level.
  • The second balance co-ordinator is the proprioceptive system, which uses sensory nerves called proprioceptors that are located in the muscles, tendons, and joints. They give signals to the central nervous system, which gives you a kinesthetic sense, or an awareness of your body posture and spatial awareness.
  • Finally, there is the visual system, which sends visual signals from the eyes to the brain about your body's position in relation to its surroundings.

Your balance may be "off," says Green, for a number of reasons, including illness, injury, poor posture, muscle imbalances, or a weak core.

"As we're getting older, we're becoming less concerned with sculpting our body, and more concerned with staying active and functional," says Howland. "With core training, your joints and muscles work in tandem, just the way they do in real life when, for example, you have to balance yourself while walking upstairs with bags of groceries in your arms."

Balance aids, such as the Bosu Balance Trainer - a vinyl dome that resembles a ball cut in half, with one side being flat and the other functioning as a platform on which to perform exercises such as push-ups and crunches - requires a collaborative effort of major muscle groups, says Norris Tomlinson, national director of group exercise for Bally Total Fitness.

With the Bosu ball you can get the benefits of cardio-vascular training, strength training, and balance training. It's a very efficient way of working out.

No Apparatus Needed

While boards and balls are popular and may liven up your workout routine, you can work on your balance and core strength on your own, with no apparatus at all.

  • Simple yoga poses, such as the tree pose, can help improve balance and stability, says Leigh Crews, who adds that when practicing balance positions, remember to change the direction that you look in order to increase the challenge to your balance.
  • You can also challenge your balance by standing on one foot and closing your eyes.
  • Exercises such as squats, lunges, step-ups for the lower body, and standing rows, shoulder presses, and other standing exercises for the upper body will also help develop balance, in addition to helping improve your posture.

Once you get started with balance training you'll be surprised at how quickly you take to it.

03/21/03





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