Fit Right Down To The Core

by Patti Singer

You may think that you’re using your legs to skate and your arms to stickhandle and shoot, but the power to get up and down the ice and fire the puck comes from your core.

Core muscles receive a lot of attention—and rightfully so. Many people think of the core as just the abdominal muscles, but the term refers to the many muscles that attach to the spine and basically hold you upright, keep you balanced and stable, and allow you to transfer power to your arms and legs. Those muscles extend from the shoulder girdle to the pelvis, and most of them lie deep in the body (underneath that taut, rippling six-pack), so you can see that it takes more than crunches to get and keep your core in shape.

To get an idea of the anatomy of the midsection, go to and click on Muscular System. Giannine Lioi, a licensed massage therapist in Rochester, N.Y., and former college strength and conditioning coach, compares the core to the foundation of a building. If the foundation is weak, the structure may crumble. It’s the same with your foundation—the core. A weak core can lead to sudden and sometimes long- lasting injuries.

Before training your core, you need to honestly assess your fitness level, says Lioi. Doing too much too soon can be as bad as not doing anything. Additionally, work all the muscles of the core to avoid creating an imbalance.

When starting a core program, you first need to gain control of the muscles to know what you’ll be working. Start with a cough. When you cough, you activate the transverse abdominus, a major core muscle. Being able to keep that muscle firm (the technical term is “engaged”) is key. Another way to think about engaging your core is to try to pull your belly button to your spine, or try to zip up a tight pair of jeans.

Start working your core by practicing good posture when sitting and standing. Engage your transverse abdominus and sit or stand tall with your ears aligned over your shoulders and your shoulders aligned over your hips. The more you can get that muscle working, the less you’ll find yourself slouching. Once you are able to keep your transverse abdominus engaged, you can move on to other exercises.

If you have been doing shoulder presses, tricep extensions and bicep curls with free weights, or using bands to do rowing or chest exercises, try doing those same motions while sitting on a stability ball or standing on one leg. Start with a lighter resistance because the unstable surface will make it seem as though you are working with more weight.

Remember to keep that belly button back toward your spine as you move your arms and legs, whether in strength training or cardio exercises. While the human body is complex, core exercises don’t have to be. Consult with a certified personal trainer for a specific program that fits your needs. Even though you’re a hockey player, check with a medical professional if you have questions about whether any activity is suitable for you.

 Patti holds a master’s degree in health education. She covers the health beat for a daily newspaper and teaches a college course about health issues. She is a certified personal trainer and owner of Fit Right In (, which caters to people older than 50 and to new exercisers. She’s still on the ice as a recreational player and most recently as a referee. Contact her at