Monday, March 11, 2013

Strengthen Your Core to Maximize Performance

There are a number of reasons to include core strengthening into your fitness routine and life. We all need this regardless of our individual fitness levels and goals. Quite simply strengthening your core will help with EVERYTHING else you do in sport or in life! And there are many different kinds of workouts you can do to benefit your core so you can make it fun and/or challenging to do these weekly workouts.

The workouts and exercises described below will all add to your core strength. If you are training for specific sports such as running or triathlon some of these exercises may be more suited to your needs. Talk with your coach, personal trainer or athletic peers about what might work best for you.

Weight Training - Weight training is accessible to everyone. You can buy your own dumbbells and train at home or use the machines and dumbbells at your gym. There are endless options here from squats and lunges to curls and presses and rows. As we age weight training becomes even more important for burning fat, toning and strengthening the core and all major muscle groups. Experts recommend weight training a minimum of 2-3 x weekly.

Yoga - There are many different types of yoga out there: Hatha, Vinyassa, Bikram, etc. There are many ways to practice yoga. At home on your own or with a DVD to guide you, at a yoga studio, at your gym if they offer yoga and other community resources that offer yoga such as parks, churches, retailers, etc. The benefits of yoga are usually physical and mental. The postures or "asanas" as yogis call them are great for developing physical strength and balance. The breathing and meditation such as "savasana" are good for mental relaxation and well-being.

Pilates - Pilates is a great workout for developing core fitness. Sometimes done with a swiss ball or other exercise balls and bands, pilates is aimed at targeting certain areas such as the abdominals and hips. As with yoga there are options for pilates training including doing it at home on your own, with a DVD, at a gym or some personal trainers may have pilates equipment such as the "reformer" in their studios.

P90x/Insanity/Etc - Over the last five years or so workout programs such as P90x and Insanity have become popular. These are DVDs that can be done in your home in a gym or dedicated area where you have enough room to workout. The workouts are challenging and include a variety of exercises, weight training and some of the other types of workouts listed in this post such as P90x yoga or plyometrics.

Crossfit - Over the last few years another type of workout called Crossfit has become very popular due to its unique structure and approach to building fitness. Crossfit includes a number of exercises and weight training. There are dedicated Crossfit studios in most major cities now and there are certified Crossfit experts that can help you. You can also look up the Crossfit workouts online and try some of them at home.

Kickboxing - While there is a cardio component to kickboxing there is also a strengthening component as well. The warm up exercises and kicking and punching the bag really works your hips, legs, arms, abs, back and glutes. Kickboxing can be done at a studio or gym or at home with a heavy bag and gloves. It is fast moving and good for relieving stress too and it's fun if you're into that kind of thing.

In terms of performance, most experts recommend including 2-3 core workouts into your routine each week. This can be challenging for runners and triathletes busy training for long-distance events but it is even MORE critical to their performance! These workouts - especially weight training, yoga and pilates - help reduce the risk for injury. At minimum these athletes should plan to incorporate 2-3 of these strength sessions per week into their routines.


  1. Great post- I started Crossfit about 18 mos. ago and my overall performance/endurance has sky-rocketed by mixing it in 2 days/week. And it's great to publicize that there are a wide variety of options for cross-training/strengthening. One word of caution, though, re Crossfit. While you can do a lot of its WODs at home, if you're going to do anything involving olympic lifts (snatches, cleans, squats, etc.) or even KB swings/work, then you have to be 100% sure your form is correct or you could get injured, which is why I think it's best to do it at a gym where a trained coach can assist. I'm sure the same is true for some other regimens as well (yoga).

    1. Chris - thx for the comment and you bring up a good point in terms of making sure you are doing things properly. I agree it is best to seek an expert but also know that not everyone has the extra funds to do that. I would caution those folks to check out some of the tutorials available online and ease into training such as Crossfit, yoga!

  2. You're so right about core work! It's one of my goals this year to do more of it but I'm finding it so hard to find time to squeeze it in!

  3. Tara, I think it's especially tough to fit into the schedule for multi-sport athletes. It's already a juggling act with the swim, bike, run! What I do is sometimes do core like yoga an an otherwise "off" day and then before/after a workout. It's critical for me as I am prone to injury unfortunately.