Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
In 2012 I worked for 3 months in an Alzheimer’s unit associated with a local hospital. One of the critical features of life in the unit was the question of mobility, strength, and stability. Loss of mobility was often the kiss of death because bed-ridden residents would suffer muscle atrophy, depression, and decline—even death. The triggering event is most frequently a fall. Consequently, physical therapy—usually simple exercises—was critical to health maintenance and longevity.
Interest in “core exercises” arose out of the increasingly sophisticated field of sports medicine. The core is “the region from the tops of the legs to the shoulder” (8). Just likely the elderly, professional athletes are prone to injury although they heal better than older people. National attention was drawn to core exercises in the early 1980s when it is was used San Francisco 49er quarterback, Joe Montana (9).
The motivation for adding core exercises to your routine arises because:
“Having an aligned and strong yet flexible core can take the load off the vertebral column and discs [lower back], which results in improved function and less discomfort and pain” (8).
The benefits of core exercises include both preventative and rehabilitation objectives:
“improved posture, which allows you to present a more youthful appearance [not bent over like many elderly people], and balance. It also means less load on the lumbar region of your low back, reducing the risk of injury to any arthritic joints and discs in addition to pain. Performance in sports and recreational pursuits is also boosted.” (13-14)
I wish that I had been introduced to such exercises as a young person because in junior high school I injured my back tube-surfing at the ocean and suffered severe lower back pain episodically ever since. In 2008, the pain was so bad that I was on my back for 3 days in a row twice during the summer. After visiting a back specialist, I added Pilates exercises, a kind of core exercise, before my daily swim.
Karl Knopf’s book, Core Strength for 50+, draws on the author’s experience with both the elderly and professional athletes. Knopf is a professor emeritus of Foothill College and longtime director of senior fitness with the International Sports Science Association (127). He is also the author of numerous exercise books (125). Knopf divides his book into 3 parts:
- Getting Started
- The Programs and
- The Exercises (v).
His introduction is part of part 1. Following part 3 are a topical index, acknowledgments, and a brief biography of the author.
Knopf divides core training into 4 stages:
- Leaning to contract deep-lying muscles.
- Focus on endurance of those muscles.
- Challenges to the core with arm motions. And
- Additional challenges to the core (14).
The attitude appropriate for these exercises is important. Knopf sees these principles as key:
- Concentration and perseverance.
- Quality of movement is more important than quantity.
- Slow, purposeful progression to more challenging movements. and
- The ability to perform every action from a neutral spine (15).
This last point came as a surprise. Knopf is very concerned with proper posture. He writes: “Learning to sit, stand, and move in the most biomechanical manner is foundational.” He advises: “If you want to look young, stand tall.” (16) After reading this, I became very self-conscious how I walked…
The philosophy of core training is likewise a bit different. Knopf writes: “The key to a well-aligned core is to strengthen that which is weak and lengthen that which is inflexible.” (22) The way this is done explains all the exotic equipment found around gyms these days—big round plastic balls, form rubber rollers, kettle bells, etc. Exercising with unstable surfaces, like doing push-ups with a plastic ball in one hand, engages more muscle groups in the core (23).
Karl Knopf’s book, Core Strength for 50+, is an interesting and helpful book. Not only did reading it help me understand my own exercise routine—the Pilates—but I also appreciated the update on the exotic gym equipment. Exotic no longer seems so exotic.
I have changed my exercise routine; you may too.
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