Core Training: Your Way to a Stronger Body (cont.)

A strong core is also responsible for your sense of balance. "Balance not only requires equilibrium, but also good stability of the core muscles and the joints, particularly the hip, knee, and ankle," says Leigh Crews, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. There are several ways to address balance and stability training, says Crews, including balance boards, stability balls, the Reebok Core Board, Bosu (which stands for "both sides up") balls, as well as yoga, and other forms of mind-body training and martial arts, such as Pilates and tai chi.

Maintaining one's balance (or equilibrium, physical stability, or steadiness), is primarily coordinated by three systems, explains Gerry Green, director of the Fitness Center at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. The first is the vestibular or auditory system, located in the inner ear, which acts like a "carpenter's balance" to keep you level. The second balance coordinator is the proprioceptive system, which uses sensory nerves called proprioceptors that are located in the muscles, tendons, and joints. They give signals to the central nervous system, which gives you a kinesthetic sense, or an awareness of your body posture and spatial awareness. And finally, there is the visual system, which sends visual signals from the eyes to the brain about your body's position in relation to its surroundings.

Your balance may be "off," says Green, for a number of reasons, including illness, injury, poor posture, muscle imbalances, or a weak core

The popularity of balance or core training can be seen in health clubs across the country, says Bill Howland, director of research for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association in Boston. "The majority of clubs and fitness centers now offer some form of balance training," says Howland, who reiterates that the idea behind this activity is not new, but like yoga, seems to have found a new popularity.

"As we're getting older, we're becoming less concerned with sculpting our body, and more concerned with staying active and functional," says Howland. "With core training, your joints and muscles work in tandem, just the way they do in real life when, for example, you have to balance yourself while walking upstairs with bags of groceries in your arms."

Balance aids, such as the Bosu Balance Trainer -- a vinyl dome that resembles a ball cut in half, with one side being flat and the other functioning as a platform on which to perform exercises such as push-ups and crunches -- requires a collaborative effort of major muscle groups, says Norris Tomlinson, national director of group exercise for Bally Total Fitness. With the Bosu ball, says Tomlinson, you can get the benefits of cardiovascular training, strength training, and balance training. "It's a much more efficient way of working out," he says.

"Your core is the essence of everything you do, from your day-to-day activities, to your athletic pursuits."

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