In early 2005 I wrote a review on my visit to Athletes' Performance in Phoenix. It was one of those eye-opening experiences that forever changed the way I think of endurance training.
All through my twenties and thirties I figured whatever free time I could muster would be best spent training for my specific sport. As a time-constrained triathlete, the idea of training for something outside running, swimming or cycling made no sense. The irony is that I'd been exposed and invited to participate in Pilates programs in the early '90s and turned all the offers down because I figured I had no time.
As I'm quickly approaching 50, I've learned that not only do I not recover as quickly as when I was 35 but I need to have excellent form and core strength in order to stay injury-free. So the extra time I used to think would be wasted doing Pilates or any other core strengthening program -- like yoga, flexibility or specific weight training -- is actually time very well spent.
Now you may ask what exactly core strength training is and what's all the fuss about?
Mark Verstegen, founder of Athletes' Performance and author of best-selling books on Core Performance, answers the question best by explaining that in order to perform at our best we need to develop the "pillars" of our body. In other words, all our strength and power originates in our core -- primarily the glutes, abdominals, obliques, shoulders and back. The position, strength, flexibility and movement of these core muscle groups is critical to just about everything we do.
Following his successful book, Core Performance, Verstegen released Core Performance Essentials which can be accompanied by a four-volume set of DVDs that promises to build your core fitness in 30 minutes a day.
Core Essentials DVDs
I recently checked out the Essentials DVD set and found it remarkably simple to follow. Some of you may recall that after my visit to Athletes Performance a couple years ago, I came back incredibly enlightened yet overwhelmed with the number of exercises. How could I possibly do what was best for me in 15-30 minutes a day?
More importantly, if I were just concerned with general core fitness, wouldn't it be nice to have everything simplified so that I don't spend weeks trying to figure out what exercises I should incorporate and which aren't really essential?
This latest DVD simplifies Verstegen's core fitness programs into "Essentials" and delivers everything you need into four easy-to-follow levels. Rather than try to decipher what's best for you, the Essentials DVD aims to get you balanced and strong within weeks. Simply stated, there are no extra exercises or routines here to confuse you.
There's a separate color-coded DVD for each level and four progressions within each level. So, basically, you pick where you want to start based on how much core training you've done and within a few weeks the exercises feel like they're getting easier because you're getting stronger.
While I didn't go through the entire series, I did view the videos and noticed that they take the same basic principles in level one and just make the exercises more difficult and challenging as you progress to level four.
The other nice touch is that each level comes with a cue card that you can take with you or use without the video. Each of these 30-minute routines has three sections: movement prep, prehab and strength. And within each of the three, there are five exercises to perform. This keeps your training to the real "essentials."
I found that once I've seen how to perform the exercises a couple times, I'd rather just use the cue card and watch something more interesting on TV or listen to the radio or my MP3 player. I've never fancied myself the type who can watch an exercise video or routine over and over. It's possibly worse than watching Dora the Explorer with my two-year-old for the 500th time.
That said, since the birth of my third son a couple years ago, I'm embarrassed to say I haven't quite followed the three-times-a-week regimen of core training as I should. Okay, call me horrible for not practicing what I've preached. But, I'll also admit that I do incorporate a little semblance (I won't say how little) of core strength and flexibility training at least once or twice a week. Therefore I was quickly able to jump to level three in Essentials and not feel too clumsy or lame.
For beginners, you're definitely going to feel a little awkward doing some of these movements. It involves a lot of balance and stability we don't have if we don't practice such moves. The encouraging thing is that it doesn't take but a couple weeks to get comfortable with the routines and you'll find yourself balancing easier and having more symmetrical strength.
Check out Core Essentials if you're looking for a way to supplement your cardiovascular routines -- or endurance training if you prefer the lingo -- by visiting The Core Performance Store. The four-volume DVD set sells for a $54.99 and each volume can be purchased separately for $14.95. Or check out each of the Web site for Athletes' Performance and Core Performance.