How Core Stability Made Me A Better CitizenNov 18, 2021
Every day in a big city can feel like an athletic event. Sprinting to catch the bus, hurdling over any number of obstacles, lugging grocery bags up subway and apartment steps — at times, all can seem like Olympic-level feats. But the closest thing to a gold medal ceremony is the sigh of relief you breathe when you can finally plop down on the sofa.
As athletes of any caliber train for their events, the average Joes who brave life in the city should also be training. No, you don’t need to practice your vertical jump to make sure you can clear the rogue trash bag or work on your sprints to ensure you never miss the bus again (train all you want, it’s bound to happen). That’s because core stability is the surefire way to become a high-performing citizen while building a solid fitness foundation.
Better Living Via Functional Core Strength
My quest toward better citizenhood through core stability began after one too many excruciating grocery hauls. I sought to replicate and strengthen these everyday movements in the gym through functional training, turning them into habits and routines I carry with me to this day.
While exercises such as the rotational chop and leg raise have their place in any well-rounded fitness program, movement-based core exercises shouldn’t be the only ones you have in your arsenal. “The key to building a rock-solid core is to challenge its ability to facilitate and to resist movement,” says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, Openfit’s senior director of fitness and nutrition content.
Core stability work consisting of “anti-movement” exercises is, therefore, a necessary and practical evil, and dedicating time toward creating a more stable core will pay off in spades.
Whether your goal is never to touch a subway handrail again, master the art of hauling laundry, or have a more capable and stable body, these moves will change the way you live — and ultimately make you a better citizen.
Start Engaging Your Core
Much like the buildings that make up iconic skylines, your core begins with a strong foundation.
Referring back to Thieme’s outline of the core’s, well, core function — to resist and facilitate various movements — our first exercises are tried-and-true ways to dial in your core’s anti-movement ability.
Don’t let its simplicity fool you; the plank is every bit as effective as the other exercises on our list.
- Get on your hands and toes with your arms straight, your hands below your shoulders, and your body straight from head to heels.
- Squeeze your glutes, engage your abs, and hold for as long as you can.
2. Bird dog
While the name is a bit quirky, the bird dog is an excellent exercise for getting all of the muscles in your core working together to help you become strong and stable.
- Get on your hands and knees with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your back flat and core braced, simultaneously extend your left leg straight behind you and your right arm straight in front of you.
- Pause, and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat with your right leg and left arm.
- Do equal reps on both sides.
Carry Groceries (or Laundry) Like a Champion
As they lift twelve-packs into an SUV’s cargo area, suburbanites will never know the struggle of walking five-plus blocks from store to subway to an apartment. While we don’t have a fix for the havoc shopping bags wreak on your fingers during those walks (though hangboard training might help), we do have some moves to help make the journey easier.
Try these loaded carry variations with dumbbells — or with heavy household items (e.g., filled gallon jugs, suitcases, or grocery bags) — if you’re going for a true-to-life simulation.
3. Loaded carry
There’s nothing showy about the loaded carry, but this move makes up in effectiveness what it may lack in panache. Replicating the dreaded lugging of the grocery bag (or laundry bag or garbage bag), these carry variations can not only strengthen your core but also improve your posture — reducing the risk of injury and empowering you to complete marathon grocery bag hauls for years to come.
- Stand holding two heavy weights by your sides with your palms facing in. Brace your core (as if someone is about to punch you in the gut), and draw your shoulder blades back and down.
- Walk for 20 to 30 seconds to complete one set.
- Suitcase carry: Perform the exercise carrying a single dumbbell in one hand. Alternate sides with each set.
- Overhead carry: Press two dumbbells directly above your shoulders so that your arms are straight and your biceps are by your ears (be sure to keep your back flat and core engaged). Hold that position as you walk.
Enjoy a Hands-Free Subway Ride
Subway handrails mean well, but they make you want to say “Ew!” If you’ve ever seen someone on the subway going effortlessly hands-free and thought, “How do they do it?” here are some moves for you.
4. Pallof press
The Pallof Press challenges your core’s ability to resist movement — specifically, rotational movement — mimicking the stress your body faces when desperately trying to stay stable on an impossibly shaky subway ride. It can be done with a light resistance band anchored to a sturdy object.
- Fasten an exercise band to a sturdy object at chest height.
- Interlace the fingers of both hands around the free end of the band and step back from the anchor point to create some tension on the band.
- Turn your body so it’s perpendicular to the anchor point and band, hold your hands near the center of your chest, and assume an athletic stance: feet shoulder-width and parallel, knees slightly bent, torso upright. This is your starting position.
- Without moving your torso, slowly reach both arms in front of your chest until they are straight.
- Hold this extended position for a five-count, then slowly return to the starting position.
- Do all of your reps, switch sides, and repeat.
- Lie on your back and assume a dead bug position: legs together, hips and knees bent 90 degrees, and arms extended toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other.
- Lift your shoulder blades off the floor and engage your core, pressing your lower back firmly into the floor.
- Keeping your head and shoulders lifted, lower your arms straight overhead as you simultaneously straighten and lower your legs, keeping your heels a foot or two off of the floor. (Only lower your arms and legs as far as you can without lifting your lower back.)
- Hold this position for as long as you can.
The City’s Most Stable Core
You’re well on your way to becoming a better citizen. The neighbors ask for your help carrying bags up to their apartments, and you’ve directed many tired commuters to open subway seats instead of taking them yourself. It’s time to dial up your efforts and help your work friend move into her new apartment.
Try these moves to give your core a little extra work.
6. Renegade row
The core stability exercise to rule them all, the renegade row is a true test of anti-rotational strength. This move — like the others on this list — may take time to master, but the reward for your struggles will be a core capable of withstanding anything city life throws at it.
- Start in a tall plank or push-up position with a hexagonal dumbbell in each hand. This is the starting position.
- Controlling your breath and preventing any hip shift, row the dumbbell in your right hand to the side of your torso.
- Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
- Repeat, this time rowing the dumbbell in your left hand.
- Continue alternating sides with each rep.
- Progress as needed, but know that when it comes to the renegade row, heavier weight is not necessarily better.
7. Plank jack
Those basic planks at the start of this story were great, but now it’s time to turn them into a dynamic exercise.
- Start in push-up position with your feet together, body straight from head to heels, arms straight, and hands directly under your shoulders. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core engaged, hop your feet out to your sides so that your legs form a “V.” (Your hips should stay fairly level—try not to bounce too much.)
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
Regardless of whether you work these moves into the occasional workout or turn them into rituals as consistent as your commute, you’ll be on the path to becoming a better citizen and a more stable human in no time.