The benefits of core strength
The core of the body serves many important purposes in human motion and activities of daily living.
The core consists of muscles in the lower torso and pelvis from the bottom of the thoracic cage to the pelvic floor. This musculature includes the abdominals, lower back, and Gluteal muscles. Therefore the core musculature can be considered to be one of the largest muscle groups of the body.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
This is particularly important because when the core is engaged, posture and dynamic stabilization of the torso during human movement is made possible. The core provides the foundation for full body movement in most activity.
It serves as the central link of the kinetic chain by absorbing, distributing and transferring forces from the lower extremities to the upper extremities in sport-specific movement, such as in the case of tennis players serving the ball.
Using your core in everyday life
This also takes place in activities of daily living, such as lifting up objects and carrying groceries. The core is also important in protecting the body from imminent danger in sport.
For example when an athlete is anticipating a collision with an opponent they will brace for impact, which is intended to protect the integrity of the spine by providing a protective posture to absorb the external force.
In this case, having a strong and stable core will allow the body to absorb the force from the impact, thus minimizing injury.
A strong core is much more than a six pack
Having a strong core should never be characterized as just having “strong abs” or a “six pack”. The six pack definition of the rectus abdominis muscle does not guarantee a strong, stable and functional core.
When thinking about having a balanced core, think of the torso as a cylinder. The circumference of this cylinder should have integrity all around. Remember that this cylinder contains the spine, and we don’t want unusual stress placed on the spine.
So when only one segment or portion of that cylinder is strong, then the spine becomes vulnerable during exercise and activities of daily living.
A prime and common example of this is the person that only works out what they can see in the mirror. This individual will do abs, abs and more abs to get that six pack just right. Over time, this approach will lead to asymmetry in core strength because the low back muscles have been neglected, thus leaving the core unbalanced.
Suffer from back pain? Build up your core
This is one contributing factor to the rise of low back pain in the active population. Although doing countless repetitions of traditional ab exercises may improve definition, they are not very functional.
Human physical activity does not just occur in one plane of motion. Therefore, over-emphasizing crunches and sit-ups all of the time are not going to contribute to the proper development of a strong, stable, and functional core.
How should I approach training my core?
When training the core, it is important to start simple and stable with gradual progression into more complex movements while adding the challenge of decreasing the stability of your training surface or device (i.e using the stability ball).
Since the core is one of the largest groups of muscles in the human body, it is beneficial to start a workout with core exercises. Many like to perform core exercises at the end of a workout.
I used to do it as well, but I found that doing core training at the beginning of the workout could be very effective in setting you up for a quality workout.
Why you should do core exercises at the start of every workout
General principles of exercise science promote working your larger muscle groups first (the core is definitely in the mix here).
1. Quality control
Technique is very important for prophylaxis of injury, so performing core exercises at the beginning of a workout when one is fresh instead of fatigued is more beneficial.
2. Neuromuscular Efficiency
Starting with core exercise or incorporating it into a warm-up will promote neuromuscular efficiency, which will come in handy during global movements performed during weight training.
This will promote better postural control and dynamic stability of the torso, which will protect the spine and also promote equal distribution of forces applied by the resistance from weights and the associated movement which will help promote optimal positioning of the joints in the extremities.
For example when performing the squat, if the core is not firing appropriately the lumbar spine can be placed in a compromised position, putting undue stress on the intervertebral discs and the adjacent nerve roots.
If the torso is not in the correct position then compensation will occur potentially putting increased stress on the knees. It is also important to note in this example that hip and lower extremity flexibility are critical as well in producing good technique.
How to get started
I like to start my workouts and those of my clients’ with a plank progression. This is beneficial because with these exercises there is very little movement, if any, going on in the torso with muscle activity occurring.
This not only promotes neuromuscular firing of the postural muscles, but also increases the local temperature of the muscles, which will promote elasticity of the muscle fibers and plasticity of the surrounding connective tissue.
Warming up your muscles before exercising
Muscles are highly vascular, therefore when they are contracting they are stimulating blood flow. Since the blood plays a part in thermoregulation by carrying the body’s core temperature, we want to increase the temperature of the muscles.
Once I have worked all sides of the “cylinder” with the plank progression, I start to get more dynamic and functional with the core by not only doing sit-ups, crunches, etc.
I also incorporate calisthenics, which promote core stabilization along with strengthening and activation of the extremities. After a couple of circuits of five exercises, it is time to lift.
In closing, there are many benefits to core strengthening, and you don’t necessarily need to throw around a bunch of weights to have a strong core.
A strong core is stable, balanced and functional. If you have all of these components then you have a solid foundation for functional weight training and/or development of efficient athletic movement.
It is not only important for apples to have a healthy core, physically active humans need it as well!
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