Best Health

Every workout I do references a strong core. I’m not looking for a six-pack, should I pass on this?

- PETER LEVIDIS is a certified athletic therapist sportspeci­ @sportspeci­alists

There’s a reason why your core gets talked about so often in fitness: It’s the foundation of any movement you do, in or out of the gym. Think of your core as the trunk of your body, with all your limbs attached to it. This group of muscles wraps around to include your lower back, pelvis and hips and, yes, includes the coveted six-pack area. So, it’s important, but for much more than its looks.

A strong core ensures that you have functionin­g postural and trunk-stabilizin­g muscles (translatio­n: it’s what holds you upright). Without properly functionin­g core muscles, your body would be as noodle-like as a piece of cooked spaghetti. And you use your core more than you think: Even during a simple task like putting your groceries in the trunk of your car, your core muscles are working to stabilize you and get the job done. The heavier the groceries, the more your core needs to be engaged because of the lack of leverage.

At the gym, if you’re performing squats, lunges or push-ups, even though you don’t get the same burn you would get on your 20th sit-up, your core muscles are working hard to brace your spine and maintain that particular posture. If external demands override what your stabilizin­g muscles are capable of, you can pull a muscle in your arms, legs or lower back.

If you’re complainin­g about extra fat in your midsection, lower back pain or consistent­ly bad posture, you probably have a weak core. While there are plenty of different ways to build strength in that area, adding a self-limiting element to your exercises is an easy way to engage more of your core in your current routine. What’s a self-limiting exercise? It’s essentiall­y forcing a survival need when you’re doing a certain move, which, in turn, makes your body engage your core to maintain good form. For example, if you’re performing a plank on your forearms and toes and keeping your spine properly aligned, you might say “Hey, I’m rocking this plank!” Now, without shifting in the slightest bit, lift one leg. This will put more demand on your body, which means that you have no choice but to engage the right muscles to avoid losing control and falling.

Focus on engaging your core for a stronger, more functional body that’s less likely to encounter injury. And, hey, the bragging rights of a six-pack aren’t too shabby either.

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