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Good news for personal trainers and yoga studios like CorePower

Core Defined

Today's Wall Street Journal article about the importance of core strength training hit home for me. I have been urging my husband to do more stretching and core strength training to help his posture, and this article offers support for my efforts.

"Core" refers to the muscles of the torso -- from shoulder to thigh. It is often overlooked by athletes -- like this article's writer, Kevin Helliker. Kevin runs, swims, lifts weights and does plenty of stomach crunches, but his core was weak. Crunches may strengthen the abdomen, but they do little for the back, buttocks, and shoulders. As a result of his current regimen, Kevin was somewhat bent over forward -- a slouch stance; and one of his feet turned outward. Sound familiar?

A Cure for Bad Posture

Kevin hired a personal trainer for 6 months. He cut back on the running and devoted the time to twice weekly core workouts. In particular Kevin needed to strengthen his backside to offset his "front-loaded" posture.

Results

After 3 months, Kevin lost body fat, his running speed improved, the knots in his shoulders disappeared and he no longer suffers neck stiffness. His posture is significantly improved and his foot no longer turns outward! One of Kevin's observations was that core training, unlike running, cleared his mind. He suspects it's because many of the exercises require balance. It forced him to "be present" -- an added mental benefit!

Getting the Results

After practicing yoga for nearly 10 years I strongly echo the above benefits, especially the decrease in shoulder tension, neck stiffness and mental clarity. So do you need to hire a personal trainer? I don't think so. It's a great option if you can afford it, but there are other ways.

1. Sign up for a yoga class. The WSJ article was accompanied by illustrations of three different core exercises, and all three of these are almost always included in my CorePower yoga class. CorePower is an expanding "chain" of studios that offers a variety of class types. The "C2" class includes the core exercises listed in the article -- Bridge, Side Plank, and Plank with Arm Lift. If you are a yoga newbie, experiment. Studios have their own vibe. At Bikram, we do the same postures each day in a very hot room and the class is 90 minutes. At CorePower, most classes are 60 minutes, the room is not as hot (but it is heated), and there is music. I've tried out myriad studios over the years and Bikram and CorePower are favorites.

2. Do it at home. The WSJ article illustrates 3 exercises and talks about many more. There is also a video link titled "core strength for men." You can also buy a Yoga DVD and practice at home. CorePower sells dvds (I bought one but have yet to try it) and Bryan Kest has a DVD with 3 workouts on it (under $10). He'll lead you through a power yoga class and it's pretty good. The Mayo Clinic site offers a slide show of exercises using a fitness ball.

3. Find a class at your local gym. Core Strength training is becoming more popular as sports medicine specialists recognize its benefits. Kevin's article states that core strength is likely to become the "third leg" of public health recommendations in regard to workouts. Cardio exercise and resistance training being the other two. Most clubs are not offering classes that include core strength training. Just ask.

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