What do you think about your core? Do you assume that core is a ‘6-pack’ formation at your front and its exclusive to athletes and bodybuilders? Do you do endless crunches to get ‘abs’? Or do you just sink the belly and push ribs out to look thinner? Let’s learn more about the core and how to work it out!
What Is the “Core?”
There are many common misconceptions about your abdominal muscles, the formation and use of the core, even between fitness professionals! To star with, we call “core” the middle or center of your body, so basically everything that connects a limb to the trunk is the core, I’ll explain more in a minute. Most people probably think that the core is simply the abdominals, aka “6-pack.” However, the core is much more than that.
As the center of our bodies, the core functions is to stabilize the trunk while the arms and legs move during functional movements. When we view it this way, we see that the core actually includes:
Muscles that stabilize the hips.The system of muscles that make up the torso (on the front, the sides, and the back of the body).Muscles that stabilize the shoulders.Sternoclavicular joint and pelvic floor muscles
Why Is the Core so Important?
The core muscles have two main functions
1. To spare the spine from excessive load. Think of walking from the supermarket to your car carrying unevenly heavy bags of shopping on your hands.
2. To transfer force from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa. Think of pulling open a heavy door.
Having a strong, stable core helps us to prevent injuries and allows us to perform at our best. Injuries to the spine tend to come from a combination of bending forward, side to side or rotating excessively. Back injuries are not usually linked to one specific incident (lifting something heavy), but rather to a history or excessive load with bad mechanics.
In order to protect the back, ideally we want to create a 360 degrees of stiffness around the spine as we move, run, jump, throw, lift objects and transfer force throughout our body. Think of lifting your kids from the floor or even better, carrying your toddler as you push a loaded baby push chair! We can only do this effectible and without pain when all of the muscles in our hips, torso and shoulders work together to stabilize and keep the spine safe.
Core Stability, Core Strength or Core Mobility?
Many people use all of these components during their training regime and workouts, however they do not always fully understand the difference between them, they are indeed not the same thing.
Core stability is essentially the ability to maintain your balance without falling over; the ability to keep your posture and position stable. Your ability to use your muscles to keep you in a stable position instead of overusing the joints and spine. Many lower back injuries and stress comes out from lack of stability.
Core strength should really be called core endurance, as it is entirely concerned with your ability to hold a position while resisting fatigue. Like when you are holding plank position or lifting a heavy bar performing a squat. Very important when performing sports and in an active lifestyle. Remember carrying your toddler and pushing a fully loaded baby push-chair?
Core mobility is what gives you the functional range to perform daily activities, like reach for an item in a high cupboard or reaching behind you for the TV remote control as you sit in the sofa. You can say that you are only as young as your mobility allows you.
How Do We Build Core Stability?
There has been a strong movement away from traditional core exercises – sit-ups, crunches, side bends, etc. New research on the effectiveness and safety of these exercises shows that they may actually do more harm than good.
Instead of creating large ranges of motion through the trunk like these traditional exercises do, most health professionals have shifted to more functional exercises to enhance the stability of the hips, torso and shoulders.
Here are some basic exercises that train these key areas and a few tips to keep in mind:
Forward plank – keep a straight line through the body, preventing the hips from sagging toward the floor.Side plank – maintain a straight line from your head to your heels in order to prevent side bending.Hip thrust – while lying on your back, bend your knees to roughly 90 degrees and press your feet firmly into the floor. Squeeze the glute muscles to lift your hips off the floor, getting your shoulders, hips, and knees into a straight line.Weighted carries – a great way to practice transferring force through the body. You can carry a weight in one or both hands and simply walk for a certain distance or time. The focus is on staying long through the body and not bending or twisting in any direction. These carries can be done with the weight by your side(s) or pressing the weight overhead and reaching for the sky!
Having a stable core is important for preventing injuries and also for enhancing performance in sports and other activities. Don’t worry about training specific muscles - they are ALL important for spinal stability. Think instead about how the body moves and how to challenge the core from bending and twisting too much in any direction. Having a neutral spine throughout the duration of the exercises is critical to executing them correctly and safely.
The muscles of the core are built for endurance, not for maximum strength, so it’s best to increase reps as strength improves. Finally, working with a fitness professional to help ensure safety and proper technique is recommended to help develop a core stability program that will deliver positive results.
Get in Touch!
If you need to lose weight, reduce body fat or you have been thinking about starting an exercise program to improve fitness, you are not alone! Know that “quick fixes” don’t exist and crush diet don’t usually work. So if you want to make lasting changes and improve your health by nutrition, exercise and general wellbeing, then make a long term commitment with your own health. Get in touch now, I can help.
In wellness and health