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Add punch to your moves by strengthening your core


Randy Couture - AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Neil Davidson

With the heavy snow in the Chicago area, many of you have had a wonderful workout opportunity: shoveling snow.

Until they began to ache, you probably gave little thought to the muscles you were using to clear the many cubic feet of snow from your driveway.  Assuming that you were shoveling snow correctly, these are the same  muscles that engage your center to provide the power for your kicks, strikes, and throws.  

Your center, or tanden, is located approximately three finger-widths below and two finger-widths behind your navel.  Your tanden is also the the body's center of mass, and thus provides the momentum behind your movementsThe muscles that support and move your tanden are what fitness professionals refer to as your core muscles.  If you are performing your techniques (or shoveling snow) correctly, you are using your core muscles to move your center.  Any exercises that strengthen these muscles will, as a matter of consequence, add power to your techniques.

Danielle Enriquez-Fowler, a Chicago-based  fitness trainer and Team Beachbody coach,  teaches core strength classes.  She describes the core muscles as

more than just your abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques, rectus abdominis) - they they also include your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and to some extent your adductors and abductors. Strengthening these muscles improves balance and stability and can help prevent back pain. A strong core is important in all sports and types of training and also essential as we age as they are utilized in every move we make!

Photo: Danielle Enriquez-Fowler

Martial artists are often exhorted to "visualize their center" and utilize a variety of mental images to allow them to focus on the tanden.  This practice is not isolated to the martial arts.  Danielle uses similar techniques with her fitness clients and students:

I often say things like: "engage your core" or "pull your belly button toward your spine". Since we cannot always physically see or feel our core muscles working, mentally focusing on them and working on our form and posture can help to properly strengthen and utilize these muscles.

So, will martial arts alone strengthen your core muscles?  More than likely, the answer is "no", unless you are at the dojo several hours per day, 7 days a week.  As with anything else, complementing your dojo time with a few hours of supplemental exercises will allow you to target the development of specific areas.

Danielle suggests a few basic routines from her core strength classes.  These exercises can be done from  the comfort of your own home, and should be performed 2-3 times per week, increasing in frequency as you get

  1. Plank - modifed and side planks
  2. Bicycles
  3. Boat pose
  4. Back extensions while lying on your belly

For each of these exercises, start at a few seconds and gradually increase your hold time as you get stronger.  As always, consult your doctor before embarking on a new fitness program.

For a more comprehensive core workout, attending a core specific exercise class may be in order.  Many health clubs and fitness centers offer classes targeted at improving core strength.  Video programs such as Hip Hop Abs, RevAbs, and P90X can also improve your core strength.

Martial arts classes will teach you how to use your center effectively, but you can add power to your techniques by targeting your core muscles in your off-the-mat workouts

For more info: Visit Danielle's site.  Danielle teaches a 30 minute core class called "Six-pack Abs" every Monday from 7:45 PM to 8:15 PM at XSport Fitness-State St. (819 S. State, Chicago, IL).  She also teaches TurboKick, Indoor Cycling, Zumba, Aqua aerobics and various strength training formats.


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