As you may have heard, core strength is very important for firefighters to possess. In fact, I would be willing to bet all my student loans that 99% of firefighters know this. But there’s a lot of exercises out there – some good, some bad. So which ones should you be doing?
I’ll start with what NOT to do: exercises that involve extreme flexion or extension of the spine. Think of your low back bending into a “C” in the forward direction (flexion) or backward (extension). Scientific research has shown us that these motions, while they may not hurt at the time, place a great deal of stress on the vertebrae. Over time, that stress builds up and the spine is no longer tolerant of high forces, which results in chronic pain and/or injury. So while sit-ups improve abdominal strength, they tend to decrease spine strength at the same time (because sit-ups promote spinal flexion).
Your core is not just your abdominals. It includes your back muscles too. Therefore, an ideal core exercise is one in which your back remains in it’s neutral position (as if you’re standing up) and you work both yours abs and your back.
There are many exercises that meet the above description but here is the single best (in my very educated but humble opinion):
Plank walks and hold using a stability ball
Start with your chest on the ball and slowly begin to walk out on your hands. Walk as far out as you can keeping your back straight. Once you are in the “plank position” hold that for 30 seconds to a minute, then walk back so your chest is on the ball again. Repeat.
Some people may not be able to walk all the way out so the ball is under their feet. That is something to work up to. Stop walking out when you become really unstable, but don’t be afraid of a little wobbling. Those little side to side shakes help “wake up” some very tiny back muscles that line the vertebrae and are responsible for fine motor movements, which reduces back pain and risk for injury (most exercise only works the muscles that create gross motor movements).
Ok I want you to try it out and tell me what you think. Was it harder/easier than you thought? Also, do you have a favorite core exercise that meets my requirements? Let us know in the comments.
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