When I took up a rowing some years ago, I learned that things were not as they seemed. People speak of “pulling an oar,” but in fact, rowing is more about pressing than pulling. By pressing against the foot-stretcher, a rower’s legs do more to move the boat than his arms do by pulling the oars. If that seems counter-intuitive, consider this: in every stroke, bracing is just as important as pressing. Unless a rower braces the stroke with the abdominal and lower-back muscles, he loses a lot of the power of the leg drive.
In other words, good rowing depends on having a strong core. So does success in other sports.
Gladiators, for instance, could hardly have delivered effective sword thrusts without core strength. Not that the crowd would have seen any six packs beneath the flab cultivated by gladiators, both as protection and to allow bloody but relatively harmless flesh wounds!
To turn to modern sports, a boxer cannot punch effectively without power in his lower body. A golfer cannot execute a strong swing without engaging the muscles of the butt. A baseball pitcher cannot leverage his main source of power without a strong core.
Any good trainer can tell you that. And trainers do, all over America, every day in gyms from coast to coast. And what do we the people do in response? Bench presses and biceps curls, if we are guys. Men work on the glamour parts of their bodies and leave the core to sag. The result: beer bellies and back pain. Women, it seems, do pay more attention to core exercises, but usually in the mistaken hope of cutting flab by spot reductions. Or so I am told.
The weak core is all too obvious a target for moralists and pundits. Are Americans’ values as flabby as their guts? Is a country without a strong core a nation without a soul? What would Cicero say about a civitas carens fortitudine musculis abdominis (a commonwealth lacking strength in the muscles of the abdomen)?
Chill out, folks. It’s Memorial Day weekend. Happy summer. Enjoy yourself, but don’t forget the crunches.