Core strength to me is the ability for my body to respond appropriately to any physical task and ideally is something that would be acquired dynamically on a daily basis. Core strength is often reduced down to a few isolated moves in a class but how do the moves you learn in an exercise class translate into your everyday life (carrying a heavy suitcase, stepping off a kerb, bending down to tie shoelaces)? I want my core to kick in and respond accordingly in any of these scenarios.
We spend a lot of our time not moving and any physical work out of the ordinary happens so infrequently that we are less equipped to deal with it. This general lack of movement means we are adapting to a low level of activity where we are not challenged, except maybe in the time we've set aside to exercise, and many parts of us are asleep most of the time. We need to use our bodies in a variety of ways in our 'normal' life.
With a movement practise, I can see all the parts of me that rarely move either through habit or lack of variety. With better awareness, we can see for ourselves what our own coping strategies might be when muscling through something that we find difficult. This might be something as simple as lifting the full weight of one leg when lying on the floor. Developing the skill of observing our own movement can help us to see why our backs hurt when we lift something heavy or why we pee when we sneeze. These are not normal responses in a well-functioning body and no, they’re not a result of simply getting older either.
It’s time to re-introduce some moves back into our lives outside of a class or our practise so that we can utilise these bodies of ours in more ways. One of the many simple ways to approach it is to start by carrying something heavier than normal on a regular basis but also in ways that give you more bang for your buck. It can be as simple as carrying your own shopping, just not always in the same way.
Rather than carrying something over you shoulder, carry it in your arms, change arms frequently. Notice how you always default to the same arm. Mix it up. Seek out challenges in your day to day rather than always choosing the easiest way to do something. Your body should be able to sense the load and figure out what muscles need to fire and when, without the need to brace and suck in your stomach. The heavier the load you are carrying, the greater the response by your abdominals.
Try carrying more awkward items in your arms that necessitate you use different body parts. When travelling pick up your hand luggage sometimes rather than pulling it along on wheels. Seriously, I do this stuff all the time!
While you are at it, I challenge you to observe how you carry something heavy.
Do you tend to lean to the side of the weight you are carrying?
Do you always use the same arm?
Do you hold your breath?
Do you suck your stomach in?
Do you tuck your pelvis under?
Do you clench your jaw?
Do you squeeze your glutes?
These are some of the strategies (not required!) that we will use to accomplish the task that we find challenging but they are also habits that have become ingrained no matter what we are doing. Patterns that get repeated over and over again. If we always use our shoulders to carry something as opposed to our weak arms, our arms stay weak and under moved and maybe our neck and a shoulder constantly niggles. Perhaps we use our backs more than our backsides and we wonder why we put our backs out which by the way, happened to me 15 years ago, when I bent down to tie my son's shoelaces, and I ended up in an ambulance!
As I’ve got more practised at observing my own movement and worked to change my habits I have gotten much more confident at carrying heavy stuff and indeed my own body weight without the fear of putting my back out.
At an advanced training course on Core and More Movement with Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement in Milan recently, we took our training class outside to the playground. We purposely carried some heavier bags, awkward items and our small suitcases the 15 minutes to the playground in the 30 degree heat. In the playground, we even carried each other up and down a small hill! It was fun and most of us are far more capable than we think we are.
It’s human nature to make everything as easy as possible and to use less effort but our total lack of movement requires us to start paying attention to all the ways we no longer move.
I don’t know about you but I want to be able to continue to move furniture if I need to, carry heavy stuff and not be dependent on other people especially as I get older. Neither do I want to slip into the default of asking a man or someone younger to do something that frankly I should be able to do myself.
If you want to develop core strength and a more resilient body, get creative, there are endless movement possibilities right in front of you.