Developing Core Strength

Winter is strength building time and to me, that means working on core strength. This is particularly important to women over 50 who want to improve balance, reduce injuries and build a base.

I became more familiar with this concept a few years ago when I had an angry piriformis muscle. Until that happened I had never heard of that little muscle that runs overtop of the sciatic nerve in the glutes. The piriformis muscle helps to make your foot rotate out to the side.

If you overwork that little piriformis muscle by having it do the work that your three glutes should be doing, it may become inflamed. Weak hips or weak glutes mucles were responsible for my problem. These muscles are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus — more commonly known as the butt muscles.

Piriformis pain is more commonly known as a pain in the a$$.

It happened a few years back I was working on a big project for a client and put way too many hours in front of the computer (without getting up each hour to stretch, walk around and reactivate my glutes.) I also got a bad cold/flu and was on the couch for several days in a row which nailed it.

I was also working out, but too much intensity and not enough consistency, which is a recipe for injury. Because the piriformis lies right on the sciatica nerve, the pain radiated all the way down to my ankle and it hurt to sit, walk, even reach into the cupboard for a coffee cup. Nasty!

As with many injuries, the first step fpr recovery was RICE. (Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevate.) I had to take time off from working out to let the irritated muscle heal before even starting to exercise again. I worked with a massage therapist, a personal trainer, and a chiropractor to get my glutes back into working order again. (Disclaimer: *If you have pain, consult a professional! I am sharing my story but am not a physical therapist or doctor. Pain indicates a problem!)

They told me, I had to train my glutes to “fire” instead of the piriformis.

Anyway, after my pain died down, I began each morning with a cup of coffee and pulling out my foam roller. I roll my glutes on my foam roller, loosing up the fascia so that it helps the right muscles fire when needed. I learned about how important it is to have a strong core when you are a woman over 50.

I used to think of strengthening my core with crunches or sit ups, but after my piriformis problem, I found that hips, glutes, abdomen, chest, back and basically the whole torso plays into the core.

Here is the list of glute strengthening exercises that I am currently doing to strengthen my core:

  • Single leg squat (I hold something to the side to help with balance.)
  • Single leg dead lift (not all the way to the floor, I do this one slowly and touch something for balance as needed)
  • 3-way thigh band (standing on one leg, lifting the other leg to the front, then side, then back)
  • Lunge (This helps to stretch the psoas muscle deep inside the core, which tends to shrink up when I sit too long working in my computer chair)
  • Side raise (down on a yoga mat. Side plank after I get stronger)
  • Hip hike (seems so easy until you do a few! You need a step for the stationary foot)

Runners World had this routine for hip strengtheners and I found this routine while reading the book “Injury Prevention and Recovery” (*affiliate link) while working to improve my right ankle Achilles problem. I particularly like this online version because it links to online videos so you can watch the exercise being demonstrated. The book has lots of recovery exercises and advice for many common runner injuries. (Only 11% of all running injuries are Achilles Tendinitis.)

(The Achilles gets pulled because the calf is too tight, the calf is too tight because it’s doing too much of the hips’ work – as evidenced by hip drop while running and my piriformis pain.)

Hopefully as you begin your 2019 new years goals and action plan, you don’t overdo it and end up working on recovery and PT exercises. Let me know what you think of this core routine!

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