The human body’s muscular and skeletal system does not function well without a strong and stable core.
This is your abdomen. In the long run, your body is only as athletically strong and effective as its core. This is why it is foolish to work out one’s arms and/or legs to the point that they are quite powerful without also strengthening one’s core to at least the same extent. You’ll literally begin to rip yourself apart. Your core won’t be able to handle the force your limbs generate.
You were made with your core attached to your upper and lower body. It’s in the middle of you and is linked with everything else. Therefore it is your center of physical control and the basis upon which your body does its physical activity. With it you can keep your body’s limbs in check and do with them as a sport dictates.
Skiing shows us how this truth works itself out, especially mogul-skiing. Those who ski moguls well usually do so quickly and smoothly. Their bodies coil and uncoil at rapid rates as they bend their legs and straighten them again and again, bracing themselves for each mogul as they hit it. The only way to smoothly take the impact of a mogul, especially on a steep run, is to prepare your body for it by bending your knees just before you hit it, absorbing the impact. Then, to keep yourself from gaining too much speed and losing control, you have to stand up again between each mogul and press your skis into the snow with some force.
You have to keep your skis in contact with the snow as much as possible to control your speed, since increased friction slows you down. All of this is happening at a very rapid rate, this crouching and standing. Your knees are bobbing up and down at least as fast as every second. Your body looks like a spring being stretched and pressed over and over again, and that’s basically what it is in the moment. Your body extends outward with far greater force than if you were not sliding down a steep slope with the weight of your warm clothes and skis and boots and backpack (and everything that it contains).
So, with the force of gravity and the weight of your body and all your equipment, every second your body stretches outwards and then you have to contract it. Contracting it means that you have to quickly pull it back up in the opposite direction gravity and speed is taking it. Gravity is strong. And then when you press your skis into the snow again, you press your body out again. But you do it gradually and smoothly, since you know in a second you’ll be contracting it again. So the strength and resilience of the core of the spring is absolutely essential to the continued success of this movement.
A weak core can’t continually pull itself up and control its body’s legs (and the rest of the weight attached to it) before it hits a mogul, which means the body isn’t really prepared to hit the mogul and the impact isn’t effectively absorbed. The legs just keep falling down the mountain with the rest of the body because your core isn’t strong enough to control them, and they slam into the mogul like rocks. The rest of the body then shudders from the rigid, traumatic impact and usually falls over, or at least flails and flops about, only after a few turns.
The importance of the core remains true for just about all athletic activities, since all of them involve your body contracting and extending, coiling and uncoiling, pressing out, releasing power and energy, and pulling in. Even walking involves extension and contraction, primarily with your legs but also with your arms.
Now, apply that picture to more intense forms of exercise. The limbs of your body were designed to move, but they don’t consistently move well without tearing or hurting themselves or something else in your body unless they do so from a strong center. Without that center, you will over-extend yourself beyond what your center can handle. If your core isn’t strong enough to handle the activity’s intensity, you can expect at least some degree of injury.
Squats. Bench press. Running. Throwing a ball. Gymnastics. Swinging a golf club or a baseball bat. Shooting a basketball. Riding a bike. Swimming. Skiing. None of these things are done well consistently and in an injury-free manner by an athlete with a weak core. Stretching limbs with power and force is stressful, but a strong core can handle it.
Have you ever played a few games of pick-up basketball with friends for a few hours? Having rested afterwards, do you remember standing up from a sitting position and feeling like you had a knot in your abdomen that standing up barely loosened? You’re sore from a few consecutive hours of contracting and extending your abdomen. Every time you took a shot, tried to block a shot, jumped for a rebound, shuffled to stay with a defender, or just ran around the court trying to get open you used your core muscles.
And let’s look at rock-climbing too. The best way to climb efficiently, keeping your arms and legs as fresh as possible for as long as possible, is to use your core. With it you can keep your body as close to the rock as possible, which reduces the stress placed on your forearms, arms, and legs. You also give yourself more leverage if you use a foot or hand-hold by pressing straight down onto it, rather than only using your limbs to pull yourself into the wall with it. To get yourself in position to press into the hold vertically, you’ve got to be close to the wall. As a friend who taught me much about rock-climbing put it: “You gotta love the wall.”
An athlete that can play his or her sport smoothly is an athlete that plays under control. A sport’s movements often seem easy for that athlete, according to the glance of onlookers. It may be, especially for an athlete that already has developed a strong core and has grown accustomed to using it. But even so, there is always a lot going on with that athlete’s body in the midst of activity. The core is always involved, even if by just keeping the rest of the body under control.
Matthew West is a Texan living in Colorado who loves Jesus and likes reading, writing, thinking, skiing, hiking, mountaineering and playing other sports, especially outside. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft. Worth, TX and hopes to attend Seminary in the future in pursuit of pastoral ministry.
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