What and Where is the Core?
In popular media, the term “core” is often associated with a limited group of muscles, the abdominal muscles, which is an incomplete picture.
The core is located around the trunk region and includes parts of the skeleton (rib cage, vertebral column, pelvic girdle, shoulder girdle), associated passive tissues (cartilage, ligaments), and the active muscles that cause, control, or prevent motion in this region of the body. The core functions as a bridge between the lower extremities and upper extremities; the core muscles must be conditioned the right way to form a stable foundation for dynamic movements of the upper and lower extremities such as when throwing, kicking or lifting objects.
What the Core Does
Core muscle activation is essential to meet postural and movement requirements during the performance of all physical activities. Through movements and static postures, we impose a variety of external loads on the spine, ligaments, facet joints, and discs. These passive tissues have limited ability to stabilize the spine and withstand body weight alone. To maintain stability, external loads must be countered with equal and opposite work of the muscles. So, the nervous system stimulates the muscles to overcome the force of gravity in order to initiate, control, or prevent motion.
Training the Core
The core muscles can be divided into three categories:
- Deep core stabilizers– attach to the spine, providing stability.
- Superficial core stabilizers– act like guy wires to control alignment of the skeleton and passive structures, especially when resisting external loads.
- Core–limb transfer muscles. – transfer force between the core and the upper/lower extremities to perform a functional movement.
There is not a single or most important core muscle that fulfills all these functions. Therefore, a variety of different exercises that involve a combination of stabilizing (e.g., isometric muscle actions) as well as dynamic (e.g., concentric and eccentric muscle actions) functions are required for the core to perform all these roles.
Why You Should Train Your Core
Though not all injuries can be avoided, training the core can contribute to injury reduction as it promotes good postural alignment and efficient movement. Core exercises are considered to be more functional and task-specific, when they are integrated with movements of the upper or lower extremities.
Over 80 percent of adults have suffered low back pain at one time or another. It is difficult to isolate any specific factor that predisposes people to back trouble, but factors such as age, gender, posture, fitness, occupation, and genetics all play a part. A weakened core may also contribute to injury as postural control and movement would be less efficient.
Research shows that people who lead an active life and are physically fit are healthier and more resistant to back pain and injury. Joints, bones, and muscles rely on movement to stay in good condition, so regular activitycan help maintain a healthy spine. Other benefits lower heart rate, blood pressure, body fat, and stress levels.
The ideal posture is one in where the spine is put under the least strain, and is naturally curved in an S-shape. Developing good core stability can be beneficial when it comes to maintaining good posture.
In overweight or pregnant individuals, there is increased stress on the spine because the additional weight shifts the centre of gravity further away from the body, which changes the position of the pelvis. As a result, the core muscles have to work harder. It is important to maintain a healthy weight, strengthen the muscles of your core, be mindful of posture and avoid static positions for prolonged periods.
What Type of Exercises to Do
The type of exercise you choose depends on your personal needs and preferences. Here are a few recommendations that are affordable, accessible, and have low impact on the joints:
- Pilates– functionally strengthens all the muscles of the core. It promotes breathing and postural awareness.
- Swimming– gentle on the joints, and uses the entire body against water resistance.
- Yoga– improves overall flexibility and strength, while promoting breathing and relaxation.
Whatever your preference, exercise within your level of capability. If you have a physical condition, some exercises may need to be modified or avoided. If you are unsure of any exercises, consult a qualified professional.
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You might also like Natalie’s article on staying grounded during the covid 19 pandemic
In one of her other articles, She also explains the differences between exercises and physical activity.
Assciation, B. M. (2011). BMA Guide to Back Care.London: Dorling Kindersley.
Association, N. S. (2014). Developing the Core.Champaign: Human Kinetics.
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Core Strength Training.(2013). New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Maria. (2020, November 8). Posture Types. Retrieved from Swedish Posture: https://www.swedishposture.com/2019/10/21/posture-types/
Positions That Put The Most Strain On Lumbar Discs. (2020, October 8). Retrieved from Owsley Family Chiropractic: https://owsleychiro.com/positions-that-put-the-most-strain-on-lumbar-discs/
What is Core Strength and Why is It Important?(2020, November 8). Retrieved from Body Fitness Personal Training: http://www.bodyfitnesspt.com/what-is-core-strength-and-why-is-it-important/