Core strength…..

We have all heard of the term “core strength”. But what exactly does it mean? Basically, having a strong core means developing the abdominal muscles that support our low back. A strong core helps to stabilize our spine and pelvis, decreases low back pain, protects our low back from injury, flattens our stomach and trims our waistline. In Pilates, we often refer to our strong core (or center) as our “girdle of strength”.

So, how can we develop this girdle of strength? Let’s begin with a simple (but not necessarily easy) exercise to activate the lower abdominals. Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet on the floor. Bring your attention to your lower belly. Notice how the belly pouches out a bit as you inhale, and comes in slightly as you exhale. Breathe in and out a few times until you feel the movement. Then, the next time you breathe out, gently but firmly pull your belly up and in toward the front of your spine.

You should feel a flattening and tightening of your lower abdominals as well as a lengthening of your spine. Feel yourself getting taller as you do a few repetitions. The contraction is not a shortening or “bearing down” movement; it is up and in, without rounding or arching your back. The rest of you should stay relatively relaxed, so you truly are isolating the abdominals.

You can practice this exercise several times a day, just a few repetitions at a time, anytime you find yourself sitting at work, at home, in traffic, etc. Soon you will develop a heightened sense of awareness of your core muscles and may even note that your posture is improving. You will notice that your abdominals will feel stronger and your stomach will appear flatter. Most of all, you will have developed an internal girdle of strength that will protect your back and prevent future injury.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Play at work.

Last week I offered some suggestions on how to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine at home. Just a few minutes of exercise each and every day can have a huge positive impact on your overall strength, flexibility, health and well-being.

However, incorporating more physical activity at work may be a bit more challenging depending on your work environment and job-related activities. And, unlike your home environment, you may not be the person in charge. So, what can you do?

If you have a sedentary job, try doing isometric exercises while sitting at your desk. Abdominal contractions, gluts, quads and hamstring sets as well as ankle pumps can be very effective and easily done in a chair.

Speaking of chairs, really slow down when you get up and down from your chair. Feel your weight shift over your legs and feet, gently contract your abs and gluts as you slowly straighten your legs and come to your full height. The simple act of getting up and down from a chair using this much focus and attention can improve your strength, balance and posture.

Stretch your back, neck and shoulders often during the day, especially if you do a lot of computer work. Do a few mini-squats in the break room. Go for a 20 minute walk during your lunch break. Use your imagination, and consider recruiting a co-worker to support each other and come up with creative ideas.

If you have a job that is active or physically demanding, the best thing you can do for yourself  is to be meticulous about using good body mechanics. Healthy ergonomics will not only prevent injuries, but will improve your posture, strength, flexibility and decrease aches, pains and fatigue at the end of a long day.

If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that has a wellness program, take advantage of this terrific benefit. If not, perhaps you and your colleagues can request a series of “wellness inservices” from a variety of different health care specialists to give presentations on how to achieve fitness, health, balance and wellness. The possibilities are endless!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP