Evil to the Core

I’m not talking about what happens when you eat too much Ben & Jerry’s, nor am I making reference to that rotten apple I bit into last summer. I’m talking about what a pain it is to maintain a strong core, and yet…it seems to be something everyone says is important.

“But,” you say, “I’m new to triathlon, I don’t even know what my core is!” I’m there with you. I think I went a year or two before I finally looked it up or figured it out. Turns out when people talk about your “core” they are talking about your midsection, abs, everything between your shoulders and your legs, etc.

Now, I’m a firm believer that if you have a good “why” you’ll figure out the “how”, so let’s talk about why a strong core is important–it makes you faster, prevents injury, and makes your stomach look awesome. Good enough? Ok, let’s move on to how.

I’m also a firm believer in making things as easy as possible. I tried doing 10 different core exercises, but even after a month I still couldn’t remember all of them and had to constantly look at a sheet of paper with pictures. Too hard. I’ve also tried just doing crunches. Easy, but not everything I needed. So now I’m trying something new, which is to follow Ben Greenfield’s advice on some simple core exercises that will strengthen your shoulders as well as your core, as published in the November 13th edition of the EverymanTri email newsletter (scroll way down and look on the lower left).

How To Get Nice Shoulders Step #3: Work the core.

Blah, blah, blah, work the core. Sure, you’ve heard this before. But think about it this way: when you’re riding a bike, swimming, or sitting at your desk, there is one thing that has to happen before you begin to slouch: your core has to get tired first.

But if your core is strong, it takes a massive load off your shoulders, and allows you to maintain much better posture. I personally recommend planks as the best way to strengthen your core and shoulders at the same time.

Try this: get into a front plank position, hold for 3 deep breaths, then switch to a side plank position left side, hold for 3 more breaths, then side plank right side for 3 breaths, and finish by holding a full push-up position for 3 breaths. Do that entire sequence without your knees touching the ground. See how many rounds you can do before you core collapses. If you can get to 10 round (about 7-9 minutes of planking), you’ve got a solid core. Otherwise, do this routine once or twice per week until you can get to 10 rounds.

 What are planks, you ask? Here are some planking pictures. No, this is different than this type of planking, which does virtually nothing for your core.

I tried it this morning. I was able to get through two rounds, barely, so I definitely have a bit of work to do to get to the 10 rounds Ben recommends. But what I like about this method is that I can already remember it, having just done it once, and it has the added benefit of helping my posture and shoulders, and my shoulder has been bugging me lately, so I’m hoping this might help with that.

So while core exercises may seem like something evil to you, here’s to hoping something good comes of them.