Core strength isn’t just for athletes. A strong pillar is fundamental to all bodies, says Mark Verstegen, owner of Athletes’ Performance in Tempe.
" ‘Core’ is a buzzword right now," Verstegen said. But too many people think only about tight abs when they hear "core strength," and not about quality and quantity of movement and injury prevention.
"We are driven a lot by looks and not by how the body functions," said Verstegen, who earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Idaho.
For him, core strength is about energy and the body’s ability to store and release it efficiently and effectively. Verstegen’s program for building a strong core is outlined in the book "Core Performance" (Rodale, $29.95). Athletes who’ve trained at his Tempe facility include tennis player Meghann Shaughnessy, soccer star Mia Hamm and baseball player Nomar Garciaparra.
Verstegen recommends devoting 10 minutes five to six times per week to core-strengthening exercises, which can be part of the 30-minute bouts of physical activity recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. By directing that energy toward core improvements, positive results can be felt in as little as a week.
"It will improve performance in life as well as in sports," Verstegen said. "Core strength is the foundation for all movement."
Where many fitness programs have components of strength, flexibility and cardio, few (with the exception of Pilates) combine the three in building a strong pillar.
"It’s vital to train for functional movement, not simply aesthetic benefits," Verstegen said.
Even functional movement has become a big problem in this country, as people with low back pain can attest. Verstegen believes much of the pain comes from a lack of core strength.
"As a society we are less active and have more ‘screen time,’ " he said. "We sit a lot, and that throws off the whole dynamics of the body."