Strong Core = Strong Body

Three weeks ago, as I was cleaning out my closet, I found an old piece of exercise equipment; my ab wheel. It had been a long time since I had used it, and I was growing tired of doing crunches and leg lifts that would leave me looking bloated. So, I gave it a try. After doing 2 sets of 10 reps, I felt muscles in my abs and upper back I hadn’t felt used in a long time. It felt like I was actually undergoing a transformation rather than just a bit of maintenance work on my body. One week of doing 2 to 3 ab wheel workouts every few days had my body feeling stronger and rejuvenated.

Three weeks later, not only had I visibly lost inches in my waistline, but I noticed other drastic changes as well. My lower back fat had almost completely gone away, my love handles were shrinking to the point where I could wear light t-shirts and see the difference, and my overall torso was showing more muscle definition. Mind you, this was mostly centered around the ab wheel, but combined with other routine exercises, such as resistance training and daily walking, things I had already been doing up until that point.

The visual changes weren’t the only changes that I had noticed. I found that my cardiovascular endurance had improved as well; I had become capable of walking 1 mile within 15 minutes rather than 20, and running up flights of stairs was less physically taxing than it had been in the recent past. My overall energy levels had improved greatly, and I had even experienced less muscle fatigue after long days of work.

What was the difference between now and 3 weeks ago? I was taking care of my core muscles.

As much as some people don’t want to admit, core exercises are important for overall physical strength and health. Now, when I say the “core”, I don’t just mean the abdominal muscles. I mean every part of the torso: the chest muscles, the abdominal muscles, the lower and upper back muscles, the obliques, and everything from the lower neck down to the waistline, from front to back. We as people tend to only worry about the abdominal muscles, since most of modern media seems to be obsessed with six-pack abs. But let it be known: you don’t need to have a six-pack to have a strong core.

Why are core exercises important? In a nutshell, a strong core means a strong foundation for the rest of your body. A strong core takes pressure off of your spine and helps your posture. Also, having a strong abdominal wall helps aid your internal organs, especially your digestive system.

Perhaps the best asset of having a strong core is that it builds a mental and physical chain reaction to the rest of the body when it comes to exercise. When you strengthen your core with a full-motion workout, such as the ab wheel or leg lifts, you not only engage the core, but the limbs as well. In fact, having a strong core makes other exercises, such as push-ups and standing bicep curls, easier to perform. And as I mentioned from my personal experience above, having a strong core helps with overall endurance with cardio workouts, whether you’re jogging, kickboxing, or even cycling. The core is the nucleus of the human anatomy when it comes to motion.

If you’re looking for some basic core exercises, these videos are a good introduction to core exercises.

If you’re looking to start using an ab wheel, here’s a video on proper form when using one.

2 Weeks of Pushups = Breaking A Plateau

2 weeks ago, I went on an outing with my younger brother in hopes of buying a new wallet. The T.J. Maxx that we went to had no wallets in stock, but something else had caught my eye: a P90x Pull Up Bar for $25. Now, I’m not the most keen on using a pull up bar at home, but the fact that it could also be used as a pushup bar and a dip station also caught my eye. So, for the mere price of $25 ($27.11 after tax), the bar was mine.

It took about 10-15 minutes to assemble, but once I had put it together, I immediately dropped down, gripping the padded grips of the bar, and churned out 15 wide-grip pushups. After 60 seconds of rest, I pumped out another 15 pushups, and after another minute of rest, I pumped out 15 more. 3 sets of 15 pushups. I kept it up for the week, with a rest day in between, keeping up with my other exercises, and by the time Friday came around, I felt awesome. My chest muscles were in great shape, my biceps and triceps had gotten some solid symmetry, and my lats had gotten huge and thick. The bar was making pushups fun for me, a smooth combination of a wide-spread pushup and a bench press, and I ALWAYS made sure my chest touched the bar with every rep.

As I started my second week, I kept up my regimen, eventually mixing 15-rep and 10-rep sets, which resulted in my muscles not only getting bigger and harder, but earning a nice soreness between workout days that only a good workout could be the cause of. Every other day, I’d notice more shape and development every time I took off my shirt. Then today, I managed to break one of my biggest plateaus: doing diamond pushups.

As long as I could remember, I always had trouble doing diamond pushups. I was always a strong man, but perhaps the specific muscle fibers or what not weren’t capable of sustaining a diamond pushup, no matter how many regular pushups I could churn out. That all changed today. After doing 2 sets of 10 wide grip pushups on the P90x bar, I switched to a narrow grip. Expecting my arms to give way, I started to perform the narrow grip pushups. First one, then two, and before I knew it, I had churned out five narrow grip pushups. Five! To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I pushed the bar aside, putting my hands in the diamond position, and churned out five diamond pushups until my inner chest muscles were as sore as can be. Mind you, I’m a hefty 285 lbs of muscle and some fat, and I managed to do a form of pushups that people half my size have an easier time trying to do. I felt like Captain America.

I’m going to keep up this regimen and enjoy the benefits, slowly crossing one plateau after another. Maybe one day, I’ll find myself doing some of those crazy pull up exercises you see those calisthenics experts do on YouTube. If there’s anything I learned from this experience, it’s that patience and consistency pays off if you keep at it.