Without core strength to stabilise and support movement, you’re likely to compensate with other muscles, which can lead to injury. These injuries are typically associated with lower back pain but can also play a role in development of others, including hip, knee and even shoulder injuries. A solid core will help to ensure that your movements are strong and pain-free.
WHAT IS THE CORE?
Your core is a group of muscles that are more than just a six-pack. Your core is made of several muscles that link your upper and lower body. These muscles have a key role in protecting your organs and central nervous system, as well as supporting numerous motions by transferring forces between your upper and lower half. These motions are important to your physical activity, but they are just as important to everyday activities like getting out of bed, walking, cleaning, picking things up of the floor and even just standing upright.
WHAT ARE CORE MUSCLES?
When we talk about core, there are generally 4 abdominal muscles we talk about.
- Transverse Abdominis. This is your deepest layer of abdominal muscles, which stabilizes your spine and pelvis by wrapping around your torso like a corset.
- Internal Obliques and External Obliques. These are located on the side and in front of the abdomen. They support rotation, lateral flexion (think a side bend), and other spinal movements.
- Rectus Abdominis. This is the topmost and most well known core muscle, which runs vertically in the front of your abdomen and is the muscle you see as a six-pack. It supports flexion forward.
But when we consider the whole core (not just abdominal), we can even include: the psoas, iliacus, sartorius, adductors, your pelvic floor muscles, the back muscles that stabilize your spine, and your diaphragm (the main muscle involved in breathing).
WHY YOU NEED A STRONG CORE
Your core is where many motions originate. Before engaging in an action, our nervous system anticipates the activity, and signals for the core muscles to activate and brace for support. This is important for several reasons.
1. Good posture. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. This has several implications including wear and tear on the spine, inferior breathing and low mood. This becomes increasingly important as we age. Good posture also projects confidence, as a tall upright stance gives the impression of control.
2. Everyday acts. You probably don’t give a second thought to how your core engages to get dressed or put your shoes on, sit in your chair, or look over your shoulder, at least not until these become difficult or painful.
3. On-the-job tasks. This includes active jobs that might involve lifting or twisting, round-the-house tasks like vacuuming or dusting, and even sedentary roles that involve phone calls, meetings or typing – they all rely on core strength. Without a strong core, maintaining good posture becomes difficult and back muscles take over, leading to injury.
4. Physical activity. Most sports and forms or physical activity are performed best with a strong core. Whether it’s tennis, running, dancing, cycling, volleyball, kayaking, or lifting weights, a strong core will help you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, and prevent injury too.
5. Balance and stability. Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. A strong core will lessen your risk of falling.
6. Protect your internal organs. Housed within your core muscles are several vital systems including your central nervous system and gastro-intestinal as well as important veins and arteries. Keeping strong core muscles helps protect everything as you move through the day.
HOW TO BUILD CORE STRENGTH
It all starts with actively engaging the core muscles. This can be tricky if you’ve not done it before, and it might take practice to train yourself to do it easily.
Engaging your core is different than sucking in your tummy. Imagine you need to brace for impact…but just in your stomach. Draw your bellybutton in and up towards your spine without sucking your tummy in, whilst gently tucking your pelvis up towards your rib cage, and firing your glute muscles. Once you are engaging the the core muscles, you then need to increase the resistance, without losing that engagement. Building a strong core as early as possible will help combat slouching and relieve smaller muscles from doing the work that really belongs to the core.
There are several exercises that you can do for this. If you’d like me to write an article on this, let me know!
In the meantime, come along to my KillerCore class where you can learn how to engage your core and work each week to make it stronger. More information on KillerCore can be found here.
All the best in your pursuit of better health!