Recently, everyone in the exercise and fitness industry seems to be talking about core strengthening. The core of your body, the area around your trunk and pelvis, is where your center of gravity is located. It is the nexus of all the movements of your body. A strong core gives you:
o Greater protection and reinforcement for your back.
o Controlled movements, especially when reacting to changes in direction.
o A solid base for all body movements.
The main muscles involved in core stability are the deep muscles of the abdomen and lower back, the glutes, and the muscles around the hips and pelvis. Core stabilization helps you learn to use these internal muscles before beginning any other movement, so that your spine is strengthened and your subsequent movements are smoother and more coordinated.
Why is core stability so important?
As chiropractors, we tell our patients over and over again that all parts of their body are connected, either directly or indirectly. This connection is called a kinetic chain. Its trunk (nucleus) is where the kinetic chains come together. A weak link in one part of the kinetic chain can cause pain or injury in another part. Strengthening its core gives greater stability and power to the entire kinetic chain as it moves. This leads to a decrease or prevention of low back pain; decreased chance of injury; increased strength and power for all activities; and greater confidence form greater strength and better balance.
How can I increase the strength of my core?
Core stabilization exercises are easy to do and can be done almost anywhere with little to no equipment. It is more important that core strengthening exercises are done well than many of them. It is a good idea to have a trained professional (chiropractor, physical therapist, strength and conditioning specialist, or personal trainer) to make sure you are using the correct muscles during each exercise.
Here are some simple exercises:
Contraction of the transverse abdomen:
Contract your belly, imagining that you are pulling your navel towards your spine. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then relax. Repeat until your muscles are fatigued and then add an extra rep each day. You can do this exercise at work, while driving, or while standing in line at the grocery store, and no one will know.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Bring your navel toward your spine and then lift your hips off the floor until they are in line with your knees. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then lower your hips. Repeat until you feel fatigued and then add one rep each day.
Plank face down:
Lie on your stomach and then balance on your toes and elbows. Keep your body in a flat line. Try to hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
Start with your hands and knees. Leave one arm extended and extend the opposite leg behind you at the same time. Hold for 2 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Repeat until you feel fatigued and then add one rep per day.
Basic exercises can be improved by performing them on large exercise balls. The challenge of balancing on the ball makes your body use the deep muscles attached to the spine more effectively. It also makes workouts more fun and adds variety to your workout. Other basic tools to improve training include: BOSU (Both Sides Up) platforms; oscillating and oscillating boards; foam rollers; dynamic discs; and foam mats. Try taking your regular weight lifting routine and doing it on one of these machines – we guarantee you’ll notice the difference!
Core strengthening should be the most important part of your workout. It should be done at least three times a week. You should focus on replicating the activities you do on a daily basis. Remember, just as a house is only as strong as the foundation on which it is built, your body is only as strong as its core.
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Hanson, Holly. “On a roll: balls are becoming popular additions to jazz training.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August. February 25, 2002: 8L.
Kelly, Lance, MPT, ATC. “Strengthening your core”. Hughston’s health alert. Available at: http://www.hughston.com/hha/a_15_2_3.htm