Getting to the Core of the Matter

“Sit Up Straight, Young Man!”

I teach Pilates, and I emphasize core training in every workout I assign to my clients. In fact, I believe building a strong and flexible core to be of utmost importance—more important than cardio, more important than high-intensity exercise, and more important than strength training. Some may disagree, but I firmly believe that just as a tree’s branches are only as strong as its trunk, so are your limbs only as strong as your core can support.

I’ve gathered dozens of testimonials that support this. One client, who would suffer every spring for days after weeding and planting his gardens, had no difficulties at all after a year of Pilates.

Another client, who walked in with a cane to our first training session, progressed to walking with no cane but falling frequently, to no cane but rarely falling, to eventually running (yes, running!) races up to 10k. She credits much of it to grit and determination, and also to our commitment to building her functional core strength. She has MS and has nearly reversed most of her symptoms.

A friend who had competed in over a dozen triathlons, improving a bit each time but never showing monumental progress, smashed his best time after redesigning his training regimen to include a focus on core strength.

I just laugh when I read articles from fitness ego-maniacs that ridicule Pilates. This stuff works, y’all!

When my son ran for a competitive track club, the coaches asked me to lead the team in some core strengthening sessions. I did, and it shocked me to find that these athletes, who were breaking records and earning full-ride scholarships for their abilities, could barely do some of the exercises. The coaches and I got excited, knowing how much stronger they’d be after adding core work to their training.

At one track meet, as I sat in the bleachers for hours and hours, the club’s star sprinter, Patrice, looked at me and gasped, “Look at you! Look at you sitting up so straight! You’ve been sitting like that all day! How do you do that?! No one else is sitting up like that!”

It was quite the entertaining exchange, as I laughed and explained that, because I have a strong core, it’s easier and less painful for me to sit up straight than it is for me to slouch. She was sold. “I’m going to do those exercises every day,” she said, as she shook her head and walked away.

If you add one thing to your fitness regimen, let it be building your core strength and improving your posture. How?

Proper posture requires the attention to:

  • flexibility—slouching means some muscles are short and tight while others are too long and stretched
  • strengthening—focus on flexion (forward bending), extension (arching the back), and
  • rotation (twisting for oblique work) standing and sitting positions—from the side, the ear, shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle bone should align vertically.

Be aware of your posture throughout the day. Notice when and how you tend to slouch and take steps to improve. Think of keeping your core muscles engaged slightly—perhaps 15-20%— while sitting and standing. Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight, your shoulders relaxed and pulled gently down and back, and your pelvis in a neutral position.

Ask your trainer for help if you’re unsure how to do these things and ask him or her to incorporate exercises and stretches that will help you build your core strength and correct your posture. Do this, and then everything you do—from exercise to gardening to cleaning your house—will be easier.

So for crying out loud, listen to your mother and sit up straight!

This blog post was authored by Laura Endres, one of inerTRAIN’s expert personal trainers. You can learn more about Laura and sign up to work with her one-on-one by viewing her trainer profile.