I think most Baby Boomers realize that strong core muscles support and stabilize the spine and provide a base of support for every move we make with our bodies. We know that core endurance can help eliminate many types of low back pain. And we know that a strong core is essential for maintaining balance as we age. But if you haven't been a regular exerciser for a few years, you may find it hard to keep up in the abs of steel class at your local gym, or even beginning Pilates.
When I work with clients who are just getting back into it after a few years, I find that it helps to start slowly and carefully, and build up core strength and endurance over time. Here is the first stage of a very basic 2-stage program of core exercises for Baby Boomers that will help you develop the core strength and endurance you need to maintain great posture, a healthy spine, and stable movement patterns as you age.
Core Exercise Program Stage 1
Practice these three exercises as many times a day as you can for 2-3 weeks.
1. Pelvic floor contractions. You may know these better as Kegel exercises. All you do is contract the muscles that stop the flow of urine and hold the contraction as long as possible. At first you may only be able to hold the contraction for a few seconds, but keep practicing until you can hold the contraction for 30 seconds--and don't forget to breathe!
2. Abdominal bracing. This is another small but important movement designed to train your abdominal muscles to stabilize the spine. It's often described as pulling your navel back to your spine. You might also imagine lacing up a tight corset, pulling your hip bones in toward each other or bracing for a punch in the gut. Squeeze those muscles in, and hold for as long as you can. The goal again is to build up to a 30-second hold while still breathing normally.
3. Quadruped stabilization. Start on all fours with knees directly under hips and hands directly under shoulders. Keep your spine straight and engage your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles as in exercises 1 and 2. Then, keeping your torso straight and solid, raise one hand and the opposite knee off the ground only an inch or so. Your goal is to use your abdominal muscles to keep your hips and shoulders square and your torso rock solid as you initiate the slight movement of the opposing limbs. Hold the position as long as you can, then switch sides. With only two points of support instead of four, your core has to do much of the work to keep your torso steady.
Spend a few weeks building up your endurance with these simple moves, and once you can maintain good abdominal stability for 30 seconds in each position, you'll be ready to move on to Stage 2 of our core exercises, where we begin to introduce more advanced stabilization techniques along with bigger movements.
(photo credit: LeeAnn Langdon, Prime of Life Fitness)