I recently wrote a blog about the value of routines. One of the pictures alongside the post was a picture of me in a plank on a BOSU ball, which lead to lots of readers reaching out to me with questions about my training. Based on the interest, it seemed logical to blog about core training.
As you can see from this 2015 photo on the left, I haven't always had a strong or defined core. For many months into this journey there was a lot of frustration and discomfort because my core was weak and my belly was simply — in the way. Now, I look forward to and search for core moves to challenge myself with.
I can't lie — I sure love the definition in my abs, and that is a side benefit of what core work has done for the rest of my body. The gains I have made in strength training have been amazing because of my foundation/core. I can lift more then I ever could have anticipated and this makes my bones stronger, which in my 50s is a major health benefit. I've become a true believer that you must build a solid foundation to really get the returns in swimming, cycling, and running. Over the course of about 18 months, my cycling improved from 14.5mph to 19+mph. Of course, not all of this is due to core work, but a portion of it is. My running has also improved. For the first time in my running career, I'm consistently running around an 8:04 min/mile average. In my 40s, when I did no core work, I ran a 10:00+ min/mile and up. And, I'm counting on breaking through that 8:00 min/mile average as I continue to strengthen my foundation/core. In addition to the cardiovascular improvements, strengthening your core also aides in injury prevention — and who doesn't need that side benefit?
As endurance athletes, we rely on our core to carry us through many, many miles. When others are faltering towards the end, I rely on my core to give me the endurance and strength I need to finish strong. When others are fatiguing on the bike, I know my core will help me turn those pedals over efficiently and (hopefully) fast.
My practice. I do core work 4 times/week. Each session lasts anywhere between 10-20 minutes. I mix up my routine so my muscles get confused and continue to be challenged and strengthened. I use Beachbody On Demand core workouts such as P90X3 Ab Ripper, 21 Day Fix Extreme Hard Core, and 22 Minute Hard Core 2. These core workouts are challenging and weren't on my radar for the first part of my journey. I had to grow my confidence, strength, and comfort around core work before I could dive in to it.
I also incorporate weights, BOSU ball, TRX suspension system, battle rope, slam ball, med balls, resistance bands, and a sandbag. There are a plethora of videos available to help you use all of these tools effectively and successfully. I do core work at the end of my workout/training sessions, which can be a disadvantage as I can be a bit fatigued. I choose to perform the core work at the end because my muscles are warmed up and hypothetically I should be a bit more moblie and flexible. It's a vital part of my routine — and my body/mind know that there is still core work left to do, even after riding 45 miles on the trainer and strength training.
And lastly, nutrition. They say, "Abs are made in the kitchen." So very true. I fuel my body with whole foods consisting of healthy macronutrients throughout the day. To see what fuels my body, check out my blogs Eat This, Bring on the Week, and Once Upon a Time. Click on the food tab for more recipes and tips.
To get a sense of my training, follow me on Strava.
Continue your own understanding. Check out Chapter 6: Core Strength, Stability, and Mobility in the book, ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life by Stacy Sims. This chapter focuses on the value of core work, in addition to offering moves to incorporate into your own practice.
Adore your core.