Commander's Fit Tip: Down to the 'core': Don't overlook this part of your workout

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  • By Col. Michael Panarisi
OK, so we've tuned our regimens, added flexibility, and focused some efforts on our legs to help out our running, so what's next?

We've covered upper body, lower body, so what about all that stuff in the middle?

Since our "core" ties it all together, we can't overlook this vitally important segment, and one that is probably the easiest to see results quickly.

This is a "high bang for the buck" area, yet for some reason, is often a weak spot in even seasoned athletes.

Some think of the "core" as the "abs" but there's really much more to this area than the famous "six pack."

The six pack is just the beginning. There is a whole family of muscles literally surrounding the midsection, all of which contribute to keeping us stable in so many activities.

Some trainers even lump in the lower back, making the "core" the only real "all around" focus area.

For this reason, it takes a family of exercises to get them all working together. A quick set of "crunches" just doesn't cut it.

The good news is, the routines available are wide and varied. You can literally do a couple a day and by the end of the week, you've hit them all.

But let's dispense with some mythology.

If you are carrying extra pounds around the midsection, working this area is not a cure.

You can't tell your body where to burn fat. You can only trigger the need.

While it's true firming up the abs will help flatten your profile, don't make the mistake of relating the muscle groups you work to the fat burns in those areas.

There's just no linkage.

If weight loss is part of your goals, don't try to "target" the losses. Be patient and let the pounds go wherever they may.

The center "abs" get all the attention, and for a good reason.

They are the largest group and have the unearned reputation of being the culprits when we look in the mirror.

Crunches and sit-ups target this area, but there's a trap.

Any exercise you do on your back with your feet anchored will eventually engage the hip flexors in your legs, and can be tough on your lower back.

If you really want to focus on the abs, get off the floor!

My favorites are the Swiss ball crunch and the suspended leg raise, neither of which pose a lower back risk.

But these are a little tough to describe, so if these aren't familiar to you, take my word for it ... you're better off getting

Ron (Stephenson) or one of our trainers to give you a quick demo.

While you're at it, ask them for the variations ... just a little "twist" and you can get all the ab groups into the game.

That's right. Those two exercises are the foundation for five or six more that offer a great tune up all the way around your waist. That leaves the lower back, and again, there are plenty of moves to choose from.

One thing to keep in mind on the lower back ...

Of all the muscle groups, this area is typically the weakest and easiest to overload, so start very slowly here.

Most of us think we have "strong backs" and here's where your body can really fool you.

Your back will take on a very high load during a workout, and unlike your other muscle groups, the fatigue is less evident, so the real pain can come the next day.

Plus, instead of loading just one or two joints, you load over a dozen, so the risks are real. This is not the place to get macho.

Slow and steady on this. I like the reverse Roman Chair, and the yoga inspired "swim."

Again, get Ron to demo. Combined with the "front side" routines, you will notice a big difference in stability very quickly, and a strong core is a big plus for all of your workouts.

One last word of caution ... flexibility here is just as important as the other muscle groups, so ask Ron to show you the stretches you need to do after a core workout.

A tight midsection will bleed over to a whole range of maladies, so don't skimp here.

But properly tuned, the core will let you take your other workouts to the next level, and with so many exercises to choose from, you don't need an "ab day" to make this work.

Just add a couple moves to the end of your daily routine, most of which only require a single set.

You'll have real benefits in minimal time.

That's a double bonus worth every minute in the gym!