Whatever your sport, core exercises are an important part of a well-rounded fitness program. Your core muscles are your muscles all around your trunk, and it pays to get them in shape.
Core exercises improve your balance and stability. Core exercises train the muscles around your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability, either in the pool, or in all your daily activities. As we age and osteoporosis is creeping in, avoiding a fall or an injury can be a big plus.
Core exercises will improve your technique, performance and help you reach your fitness goals. Strong core muscles make it easier to do many activities and excel in sports. In swimming, strong core muscles will help you stay on top of the water, avoiding water resistance and having a more efficient technique. For the most advanced swimmers, strong core muscles will allow them to hold their streamline position longer and be more efficient off the walls.
Core exercises will improve your daily quality of life. Weak core muscles leave you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and a myriad of related injuries. As you all probably have noticed, with age we have a tendency to add a small layer of fat around our middle section. Core exercises will slim you down and help you avoid a lot of illnesses, often linked with a round middle section.
Core exercises do not require big, specialized equipment or even a gym membership. Any exercise that involves the use of your abdominal and back muscles in a coordinated fashion counts as core exercise. Whatever your level of fitness, simple and easy exercises can be found and adapted. Any exercises that improve your balance, and stretch and reinforce your middle section, are excellent starters. Lifting one leg to a 90-degree angle while keeping straight is an example (make sure you stay close to a wall or chair if you need support for balance). On the floor on all fours, extending one arm and the opposite leg is another example. Doing the “cat and dog,” which is rounding your back, then stretching it, just feels good, and is considered a core exercise. Just contracting your abs and gluteus constantly on and off during the day, while doing your usual daily activities at home, at the office, at the pool, at the park is all it takes.
However, if you are new to core exercises, it might be good to have someone watch you to see if you are doing the exercise correctly. For example, some of the basic core exercises are sit-ups, but those can lead to lower back problems if not done correctly (make sure you do not arch your back, and keep your lower back on the floor), the plank (keep it a straight plank and not a broken and/or bent plank), the bridge (slowly lifting your hips off the floor while lying down with your knees bent), fitness ball exercises, etc. You can learn a lot of the core exercises by following a good yoga class, Pilates class and/or abs class offered at your gym, virtually or thru an exercise tape.
In the pool, you can also have great core exercises. The water will support you and may help you avoid injuries if you do not yet have the perfect form. For example, just floating on your back and contracting your abs to keep your toes at the surface for as long as you can, practicing nice dolphin underwater kicks and or dolphin kicks on your back are all core exercises. Enrolling in a water aerobics class should also help with strengthening your core.
As always, keep it simple and enjoyable. You do not need to show a ”6-pack” abdomen. A stronger core will help you stay healthy and fit, while improving greatly your quality of life as you age up.