Fitness Over 50 Starts With Core Strength
Forget big biceps, even forget trying to get a ‘six-pack”, if you’re over 50 and are seeking true strength, it all starts with your core.
Too many men over 50 view fitness in the wrong light. Sure, a muscled and toned body looks great on the beach, and for sure that’s something motivating to set goals on. However, for achieving fitness from a functional strength standpoint, nothing exceeds core strength in importance.
What is the core? May mistakenly think of the core as just the front abdominals. In fact, the core is quite expansive, including many muscles and muscle groups. Basically, think of your core as all muscles from roughly the bottom of your rib cage down to about halfway down your hips, surrounding the full 360 degrees of your mid-section.
Core strength is important for several reasons.
First, your core provides the base of all physical movement. I love the tree analogy; what’s the strongest part of a tree, the limbs or the trunk? What would happen to the tree if its limbs were thick, heavy and strong, but its trunk was spindly and weak?
Think of people with back problems and you get the right idea. But, more importantly, all functional movement is initiated by and supported by the core. The stronger your core, the stronger your functional movements.
Second, a strong core protects your spine, including the spongy discs providing cushion between your vertibrae. It’s very important to know that your spinal column (and most of your skeletal system for that matter), isn’t designed to bear the weight of a load. Men experiencing back problems, including disc problems, almost always have this debilitating issue because of a weak core.
Note that protecting your spine is not just a function of a strong back, however it’s the result of a strong and balanced core, and the abdominals in front play an equally important role in spinal health.
Getting started on a strong core is pretty simple, and although countless core exercises exist, here are a few basic moves to get you started:
Stability Ball Crunch. One of the simplest and most-basic core exercises targeting the main abdominals. Using a stability ball supports your back while requiring your entire core to act dynamically through balance. Exhale while coming up and lightly squeeze your abdominals at the top into a “crunch”. Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions each to start.
Stability Ball Cobras. This targets your lower back, but with the stability ball all core muscles engage for balance. Begin in the neutral position, then slightly raise up, engaging your lower back. Start with 3 sets of 10 reps, then progress to 15 reps and then 20 reps as your strength builds. You will also note your ability to raise up higher and hold in the “up” position longer as your strength increases.
Side Knee Planks. This simple exercise targets the obliques, the muscles on your sides just above the hips. However, you will easily feel the entire core engage when lifting your hips up off of the mat. Start out with your hip on the ground, then slowly raise your hips to a plank position. Simply raise your hips off of the mat for a “1” count, and repeat 10-15 times on each side. As your core strengthens, try increasing your hold to a “3” count and increase to 20 reps. When beginning, leave the lower part of your leg, from knee to foot, on the mat for extra stability, then progress as you add strength so just your elbow and foot are on the ground.
Performing just these three exercises for a minimum of three times per week will begin laying the groundwork for a strong core, and you should feel a difference in your core strength after about 30 days. From here you can progress to additional core exercises if desired, or just stick with these basics for a while.
Nothing in your workout routine is more important to your overall muscular and functional fitness than core work and achieving core strength, be sure core is included in your strength plan!