No, I am not talking about body image here. Being healthy and fit has always trumped getting six-pack abs in my book.
I am talking about all those exercises necessary to keep my core strong enough to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I hate those pesky crunches, planks and leg lifts. But I love the way they have improved both my running and my balance.
My trainer, Vince Granger, makes working my abs a big part of every workout and is used to my moaning and groaning and expletives that must be deleted. He has maintained all along that the core is, well, the core of fitness. And I am begrudging starting to think he is on to something.
Vince says to think of your body as a tree and your torso as the trunk. He says the whole idea of an abs workout is to keep it “firm and strong and solid, so your legs can actually do their job efficiently and move you through space.”
Or look at it this way (Vince is great on metaphors!): “The legs are, say, the tires on the car, whereas the core is the motor and the rest of the chassis.
“You need the legs to get you where you are going, but they won’t do it by themselves.”
They certainly won’t get you through a run as gracefully. I am known as the Wolfson family “klutz” and I have the scarred knees to prove it. But something just short of miraculous has happened since I started concentrating on my core. When I hit a rut in Rock Creek Trail, or a branch in East Potomac Park, I just keep on going.
Vince, in that slightly smug way trainers have when they know they have been right all along, says, “You are much less likely to fall or stumble if your core is strong. The strength to keep your body upright and keep it where it is supposed to be going — a lot of that comes from your midsection.”
So where do you begin when you want to work on your core? Vince says start with the basics — simple crunches and planks. But he says be prepared to intensify your workout as you gain strength.
“Once you get to a certain level, your body gets used to an exercise, and you have to change it up a bit to make it more challenging,” he says.
The good thing is all you need to work your abs is your own body and maybe a mat or an exercise ball. Lots of gyms offer ab classes, many people swear by Pilates as a great core workout, and there are websites and videos galore. But you can’t have Vince. He’s mine. (JUST JOKING, VINCE, HONEST!)