“Restoring the core” (why this buzzword is misleading)

by Ryan Wagner

The other night I overheard a group of people discussing a yoga and Pilates retreat they were looking forward to attending. It was called “Restoring the Core.” Aptly named, indeed, since the foundation of Pilates one can argue is all about the core. But it got me thinking how common this buzzword (buzzphrase?), and its derivatives, are in the present day.
My grievance here is that classes and weekend programs named Restoring the Core¬†oversimplify the training required to correct core-based movement dysfunction. It just isn’t something that can be done in a weekend, a workout, or even a week. And marketing such programs this way conditions us into believing that fixing our bodies can be distilled down to a singular workout in lieu of something more practical, like a lifestyle change or better yet, the adoption of a sustainable fitness program.
For years now, the core has been a focal point of many a fitness program. And some folks do indeed have weak cores which can complicate the movements and activities that they want to do. But then again, many do not.
Here’s a test: hold a plank with good form. If you can hold it well without slumping at the hips for 45 seconds, I don’t think your core is all that weak. Might you still have underlying core muscles that aren’t skillfully firing? Maybe. Is your anterior abdominal musculature weaker than your posterior? Perhaps. But I think that when we get to this level of fidelity in your fitness, we have to first decide on whether you’re a competitive athlete and care about such minutia.
I’m more interested in the practical aspects of your core strength: does it help you to keep your spine safe and happy when you need it most?
If you read my work here on Motus, you’ll know that I’m a huge advocate of the old Chinese proverb: you’re as old as your spine.
So, how can you begin to introduce safe and effective exercises into your fitness program that will help to round-out your core, so to speak?
In my experience, few fitness classes approach the core from the perspective of functional movement and natural movement patterns. Static holds like planks can be helpful, and are a great first step, but these days, everyone from your average yogi to Orange Fitness enthusiast, has done plenty of these. And sit ups, well, they don’t translate much at all.
In the past decade or so, I feel like the health and wellness community has really begun to understand the core. That is, I think that we’re zeroing in on the right answer to core training. And the best answer seems to be that by training the resistance to rotation, we are doing the right thing for our core.
Please note that when I say rotation, I’m not referring to just a movement like a sit-up. No, your core can move in all sorts of directions. By focusing on the stabilizing nature of your core, across many different plans, we’re reminding our core of its primary duties.
I’ll be updated this article in the future with images and video, but for the interim, here’s a list of my favorite core exercises. Pick and choose what you feel are best for you and your body and build an integrated program.
  • BOSU ball push-ups, and holds, with slight tilt for play
  • TRX push-ups
  • Hip thrusts
  • Pull-ups, aiming for no swinging
  • Deadlifts
Remember, your core engages prior to all movement. From walking to lifting to yoga to cycling, your core is very much engaged. If you’re a seasoned lifter with a focus on large compound movements, and you mindfully lift, there’s a chance that you’re getting all the core training you need.
Retreats are fun and yoga is really great, but attending one or two classes with the sole intention of “fixing your core” isn’t going to do much for you if it doesn’t precipitate a change in your ongoing fitness and movement program.
"Restoring the core" (why this buzzword is misleading) by