Long before I was ever an instructor or a client of DEFINE body and mind on South Lamar in the heart of Austin – or any fitness studio – I was a gymnast and later, a runner. I wasn’t the type of runner who was trying to qualify for anything but I ran a few races a year, it was a good stress reliever, and it kept me in touch with my competitive side when I timed my mile once a week.
I originally took up barre when I got injured running but after my first class, not only was I hooked – but I realized that although my legs were strong from gymnastics and running, other parts of my body were very weak – especially my core. I could barely hold a plank for 30 seconds.
Across all the classes I teach – body (barre), rev (indoor cycling), and bounce (trampoline) – I’m always reminding clients to engage their core throughout the movements in class. With summer already here – especially in Texas, I’ve been getting lots of requests for “lots of abdominals” in my Body classes, so it’s a good time for me to talk about core work.
When we talk about “engaging our core,” it’s more than just our abdominals – it’s also our back muscles and around our pelvis. (I have zero medical background so those are words from my physical therapist friend!). I always tell my classes that we work our core from the moment we start class to the moment we finish – and it’s true – as long as you are keeping your muscles engaged, meaning your tailbone is tucked under your hips and your navel is pressed up against your spine.
Here are some of the big benefits I’ve received strengthening my core:
- Balance. Although my days of being on a balance beam are long gone, I still depend on good balance in many other ways – for example, imagine if I didn’t have good balance how ineffective of a Bounce teacher I would be. Think of all the times you hear me and the other instructors say “for a balance challenge…” – the next time you hear one of us say that, engage your core and see for yourself how much easier balancing is.
- A Healthy Back & Better Posture. Many of us, myself included, have jobs that require us to sit at a desk or in a car for a large part of the day. I dealt with back pain for years in my early-and-mid-twenties and I always attributed it to being an ex-gymnast, as well as someone who traveled weekly for work and spent at least two days a week on a plane, so it was something I had no control over, right? Wrong. I later found out that couldn’t be further from the truth. As soon as I started taking barre classes and strengthening my core, my back problems stopped pretty much instantly and I was able to sit up straighter and stand up taller. Tip: if you are ever in a plank and your back starts to hurt, draw your navel in, square your hips to the ground, and make sure you aren’t arching your back or rounding out your spine. You want a flat back – so flat you can balance a margarita on your back – to move the work out of your back and into your core.
I encourage everyone who takes my classes (or really any classes at DEFINE body & mind) to think about engaging your core the entire duration of a body, rev, and bounce class – not just in abdominal work – and see how much of a difference it makes throughout your day!
Natalie Graham, DEFINE body & mind South Lamar Austin rev, body, bounce and 30/30 instructor.
Natalie is also food and fitness blogger at sweat-and-sweets.com specializing in gluten-free, dairy-free and of course a little ice cream too (albeit vegan).