What’s your core strength?

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What can help you reduce body fat, increase lean muscle mass and burn more calories? Strengthen your core with core-strength training.

Your core is more than just your abdominals. It also includes your pelvic, mid-back, lower-back and hip muscles, which work together, forming a stabilizing muscular corset that supports your spine and skull. These core muscles form a bridge between your upper and lower body, allowing fluidity of movement from head to toe.

Strengthening your core will build more than just your muscles. It will also help develop strong bones. By stressing the bones, it increases bone density and reduces your risk of osteoporosis.

Strength training can also help you control your weight. Muscle burns calories more efficiently than fat. So, the more toned your muscles are, the more calories they burn.

Strength training can also boost your stamina by improving your balance and endurance level. People with weak core muscles are more prone to back injuries. Poor muscle support may allow the vertebrae or discs to more easily slip out of position and pinch surrounding nerves.

Strength training can also help you manage chronic health conditions, including: back pain, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and some breathing challenges.

Recent research suggests that regular strength training can improve your ability to focus mentally, especially as you age.

Improving your core strength will also improve your performance in sports, including: running, kicking, throwing, swinging and/or jumping.

Even everyday tasks become easier and safer with increased core strength. Improved balance and muscle controls makes you less prone to injury when trying to keep your balance on slippery surfaces, carrying packages, jumping in and out of your rig, walking up and down stairs, etc.

Building core strength is different than following other strength-training programs, which target a single muscle group. Core strength exercises challenge a broad range of interconnected muscles at the same time to produce coordinated, integrated movements that engage the entire body from head to toe.

Effective strength training can be done with little or no special equipment, making it very convenient for when you are on the road. Using nothing more than the resistance of your own body weight, you can build your strength doing push-ups, pull-ups, abdominal crunches and/or leg squats.

Isometric core exercises are also effective. For isometric exercises, you hold your body in a stationary position for a period of time, rather than contracting your muscles through a range of movement as with most exercise programs.

Two common isometric exercises are a ‘plank’ and a ‘bridge’. To do a plank, you hold your body at the top of a push-up position for as long as you can while maintaining your back in a straight line. (Start with 60 seconds). The next time you do a plank, try to hold it a little longer.

To do a bridge, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold your back in a neutral position – not arched and not pressed against the floor. Slowly lift your hips off the floor without tilting them, while tightening your abdominal muscles.

Raise your hips until they are even with your knees and shoulders. Hold this position for as long as you can without breaking your form. (Start with 60 seconds). As your strength increases, increase the duration of the exercise.

As well, many Yoga and Pilates programs can be done with no equipment. Take a look online or in the DVD section to find a suitable program that matches your fitness level.

For variety, you may consider packing some simple exercise equipment in your bag. Resistance tubing can be picked up in most sports departments. It is effective, yet inexpensive, lightweight, and very transportable. Free weights, such as small barbells also travel well.

When using weights or resistance equipment, choose a weight or resistance level that is heavy enough to tire your muscles after 12 repetitions. Gradually increase this level as your strength increases, but maintain a 12-repetition limit, so that you just have enough strength to complete the twelfth repetition.

As an alternative, why not pack your bathing suit in case there is a pool where you are laying over? Swimming is a refreshingly different way to build core strength.

If you prefer exercising with others, public fitness centres and organizations offer drop-in programs with free weights, weight machines, and classes, such as: spinning, kick boxing, karate, etc. You don’t need to invest a lot of time to benefit from strength training. Two or three sessions a week that take between 20 and 30 minutes are all that most people need.

After just a few weeks, your strength and stamina should noticeably improve and continue to improve while you continue to train.

Try it. You’ll look better, feel better and move better.

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