There has of late (as in the past 20 or so years) been a huge push in the fitness community towards “core training.” This in and of itself is a great thing- but a lot of the training methods I see do more harm than good. I see a lot of people who have injured themselves, especially the lower back by incorrectly training the core.
The big issue is the idea that you want to train core strength. This is true, but not exactly how people might think. What you really are after is core usefulness. You want your core to be flexible, agile, relaxed, and strong. I like to use the phrasing “core agility” to sum it all up.
Internal martial arts are perfect for this. Here’s why. The basic idea of a lot of the “strength training” means that you should tense the muscles in your core to the point that they cannot move anymore. This means that these exercises train you to not be able to move- this is the opposite of what we are after. We want to train flexibility and movement, not tension and stagnation.
To be useful you must train to maximize the flexibility and agility of your core. In internal martial arts they use the phrase “internal intelligence,” or “internally alive.” This means that you are able to use the diaphragm and pelvic muscles to move the entire body in a light and agile fashion with a broad range of motion. These muscles are not completely limp but not completely tense- they are moving and in use somewhere in between. Thus enabling them to deal with incoming and outgoing force. We call this ability expansion and contraction.
The real value of this is that in internal martial arts as we teach them, you use your core all day for every movement that you make. Driving your car, picking up a cup, opening a door- it doesn’t matter- do everything using internal agility and intelligence. Make this simply how you use your body.
You will find that by learning to use your core in this way you will be stronger yet more relaxed, more flexible with internal intelligence, and in better health!