How’s your core strength? It’s all well and good to have strong arms and legs, but if your core is weak then you leave your body susceptible to injury and pain. Core instability is one of the main reasons why many adults complain of pain in their back. It is the main connection between your lower body and your brain, and it is what you need to be able to safely perform all your daily activities with efficiency and ease without injury. That is why it is so important to be maintaining good core strength throughout your entire life, no matter what your level of exercise and activity is. So what exactly is your ‘core’ and how can you strengthen it?
Core Strength: Understanding The ‘Core’
Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles you see on the outside. It is a whole group of muscles your body uses to serve some very important purposes. Some of the main benefits of having a strong core include:
- Staying balanced and stable. Holding a good posture throughout the day will become easier for you.
- Having a happy and healthy back. No more backache after a long day at the desk.
- Reduce risk of further Injury. Most of your movement starts from the centre of your body and moves out so it makes sense that having a strong core will ensure these centre movements come from a strong, pain-free place. Doing every day tasks will become a breeze – lifting your child out of the cot at night, taking your groceries out of the car, any task where you have to lift and turn will be much easier and pain free with a stable core.
- Protection for your spinal cord. Your spinal cord which is housed within your spine, connects all nerves to the brain and is protected mostly by your core muscles. When you sit up straight, inhale and pull your core muscles back, these muscles are the ones that provide the most support. Keeping these muscles strong and healthy will make it far less of a risk that you will hurt your spinal cord.
- Improve your athletic ability. Your ability to move comes from the centre of your body and then moves out from there (central to peripheral). So if you are strong centrally, your ability to move your peripheral muscles increases. For example, if you play tennis, you will be able to manoeuvre your racket with more precision and hit the ball with greater force.
- Better breathing. Having good core strength will enable you to breathe more fully, increase your lung capacity and in turn increase the amount of oxygen you can get into your body. This will help you go further and recover quicker too.
Typically in the literature your ‘core’ muscles are your abdominals, paraspinals (or the muscles that run up and down beside your spine), gluteals (your bottom muscles you normally sit on), the diaphragm and your pelvic floor. These muscle groups are a mixture of deep stability muscles and superficial movement generators and it is important that both these muscles groups work well together so you can perform normal and efficient movement.
“Abdominal strength is great, but that’s largely one set of muscles, at most a couple of sets,” says Dobrosielski, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, based in San Diego. “But when we think about the core, we think of a three-dimensional area from the upper thigh to just below your chest.”
Building Your Core Strength
There are many full body exercises that will help to strengthen your core like swimming, yoga, pilates, and running/brisk walking. If you can incorporate at least one session of these in your weekly workout routine you will do your body a huge service. But if you can only manage 5 minutes every day to work on your core, that will be a great start as your brain learns the best way to stabilise and move your body. It seems strange to say that your brain needs to learn how to move, but if you are like most people, you most likely have deep muscles that aren’t being used as you compensate with bigger, more peripheral muscles.
Here are some great exercises to get you started. Start small and increase the frequency and the number of reps and the times per week as you gain control and get better at it.
Plank: Get down on the floor as if you were going to do a push-up. Rest your upper body on your elbows (with your hands forward) and your lower body on your toes, while keeping your body straight and parallel to the floor. Hold the position for just 10-20 seconds to start, but do several sets. You can increase the length and number of sets as you get better.
Side plank: Get down on the floor, but rest on one side with your feet together. Lift your upper body on one elbow with the hand out in the direction you are facing. Keep your body rigid with your legs, hips and chest in a straight line off the floor.
The bird dog: Get down on all fours with your hands flat below your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips. While keeping your head down and your neck and back in a straight line with your hips, raise your right arm straight forward, palm down; at the same time, extend your left leg straight out behind, keeping it parallel to the ground. Hold for five seconds, then switch arms/legs. Do several sets. This is great for the muscles along the spine.
The bridge: This can be done on a soft surface, like a bed, or the floor. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, with your neck relaxed. Tighten your stomach muscles and raise your hips to create a straight line from the knees to the hips and torso to the shoulders on the floor. Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly lower your hips to the floor. Repeat.
Get Some Motivation
Here at AJ’s we have group fitness classes that will help you strengthen your core and give you valuable feedback and guidance as you perform these exercises. Come on in and be motivated to strengthen your core alongside other people with the same goal.
Contact us for your guided tour of our facilities – you won’t be disappointed! Or sign up online now to become a member.
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