Every summer, Ma Nature issues her orders: Hit the waves, follow the trail. Heed the call and you'll be rewarded with strong limbs and spacious lungs. Given summer's inherently high level of activity, you might be tempted to think of the season as one big excuse to skip your sit-ups. Big mistake. The most important part of your body is your lower trunk, and it can always use some extra attention.
Experts who preach that "your trunk is your core" are as common as infomercial ab machines. But what often gets glossed over is that a healthy trunk means more than a corrugated tummy. A strong center section is made up of equally strong lower back and abdominal muscles, and it depends on sturdy hips for support. Bolstering these elements provides a trim and stable base from which your limbs can work, thus affecting virtually everything you do. The torso is also where the body twists and bends, obviously, and so requires stretching. And if performing as spectacularly as beach volleyball pro Holly McPeak while flashing a similarly chiseled midriff isn't incentive enough, consider: A strong trunk makes you far less prone to back injuries. No small perk, considering that 70 percent of Americans experience back pain.
To most effectively strengthen and stretch your torso, break it down into isolated sections — lower back, stomach, hips — and take up this regular if brief routine. Sure, it'll require hitting the exercise mat and doing crunches, among other things, but you'll relish the benefits. Here's the lowdown on how to tune up the various sections of your torso.
Order Up: A Shot of Creatine with a Carbo Chaser, Please
Unlike supplements that smack of snake-oil claims, creatine has long been accepted by both the medical community and elite athletes as a legitimate way to boost performance. Consumed properly, the naturally occurring amino acid will indeed help recharge your muscles' waning fuel stores, thus boosting your energy during sprints and other bursts of anaerobic activities. Usually. Problem is, while there's proof positive that creatine can be effective, it doesn't work for everybody, and even if it does for you, you can't always count on it.
Nevertheless, there may be a more reliable way to harness creatine's benefits. A recent study of two dozen men at Queen's Medical Center in Nottingham, England, found that taking creatine supplements with carbohydrate drinks or plain-old sugar water increases its absorption by up to 60 percent. The lab coats haven't quite sorted out what's going on inside — British researchers suspect higher insulin levels are to thank — but one thing appears likely: Chase your creatine with carbos and you'll be all the faster for it.
As always with creatine, it's most effective when limited to use until just before an event. The prescription for recreational athletes is to take 20 grams a day for the five days before a race or tough training day, dissolving each dose in an eight-ounce glass of a carbo drink such as Gatorade or even orange juice — the beverage of choice for the participants of the study. Still, it's not inexpensive (about $60 for a three-month supply) and its long-term effects are as yet unknown — both good reasons for holding off on the stuff unless competition calls.
— Sarah Bowen Shea