Work that Core

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It’s not just about developing a six-pack

Most people don’t understand the importance of core strength and how vital it is to your overall health. Your core is in the centre of your body. Hence, it needs to be strong to support the weight of your entire body, including your back and neck. In a nutshell, core strength leads to overall body strength.

It is important to realise that core strengthening is more than just achieving six-pack abs. Developing strong abdominal muscles may actually make you less prone to back injuries and teach you proper spinal alignment. Many people have back pain — whether it’s upper back pain or low back pain — and this may be partly caused by weak abdominal muscles. Your abs are the front anchor of your spine. If they are weak, then the other structures supporting your spine (your back muscles, for example) will have to work harder.

What are your core muscles?

Many people mistakenly think that their abdominal muscles are the only core muscles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Experts differ on all of the muscles that make up your core. Some say that it is the section of your body from your hips to your armpits while others say that the core runs as far from your knees to your neck. However, no one can disagree that this complex series of muscles is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body.

Your core muscles can be split into two types of muscles: stabilizers and movers. The stabilizer muscles attach directly to the spine and support its movement. The movers are the muscles that support the stabilizer muscles and work with them to move your body.

All of these muscles work together to support and move the body safely whether you are walking, playing sports or carrying a heavy load.

Without core strength

Maintaining a strong body core is not just important for athletes. It is imperative for everyone, at all ages. Balance, posture and back health have been linked to core strength.  A weak or inflexible core drains power from many movements and can make it difficult and tiring to perform even the simplest basic tasks.

What exactly are good core muscles?

Core strength alone is insufficient. Your core muscles need to be stable and flexible as well. Core strength is the ability to produce force, while core stability is the ability to control the force we produce. Sound core stability enables the stabilisation of the spine during its various movements and functions. Bending, turning and stretching are so much easier if you have a flexible core.

How to strengthen your core

While a good weight management program will help to reduce your fat stores, it will not address the needs of your core muscles. Only an exercise program designed to address these muscle groups will help strengthen your core.

Evidence suggests that core stabilisation and core strengthening can help to improve back health, balance and overall functional fitness.  The common method they all use to strengthen your body’s core is to create resistance or instability so that the core muscles have to engage and respond to maintain balance. Core strength exercises often imitate the moves we employ in our daily activities or sporting events. This helps to train the body to rely on the core while helping to reduce the strain we place on our limbs.

A weak muscle or muscle group must first be strengthen by using isometric exercises before it can be strengthen through regular exercise. If a weak muscle is not attended to first, then the body will be forced to compensate and use other muscles to perform the desired movement.

It’s important to incorporate exercises that work all of your abdominal muscles equally. Core exercises should involve the major muscles in your abdomen, including your internal and external obliques and the transverse abdominals.

Group activity classes such as yoga or Pilates are a great way to start, as both place an emphasis on core strength in their poses and movements. 

When you are a little more advanced, you can try to do core exercises such as planks and V-sits. These help to strengthen the muscles that help to stabilise your spine.

As you progress and develop more core strength, you can start to do more challenging exercises such as standing on one foot.

As with any exercise, if you experience increased pain while doing core strengthening exercises, stop and call your doctor or physical therapist immediately.

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