When it comes to having a strong, healthy body and a flexible, pain-free back, you can’t do better than having a good, strong core. But what does that even mean? What, exactly, is the core? And why is it so important?
It’s common for people to associate the abdominal muscles with core strength, but your core is made up of much more than abs. There is some controversy about what is considered the core. Core muscles can be divided into two groups: (1) local muscles that help stabilize your spine, including the transversus abdominis, internal obliques, multifidi, pelvic floor and diaphragm, and (2) global muscles that assist in moving your spine, such as the rectus abdominis, external obliques, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi and various hip muscles.
Your core is your stability. It’s your foundation. When the core is weak, the rest of your body is weak. Your core supports your spine and keeps stress off the rest of your body.
This is one of the many reasons exercise is vital to the body. Exercise doesn’t just support cardiovascular health and keep you at a healthy weight – strengthening your core through exercise literally supports the rest of your body, particularly your spine. The strength of your core can determine the health of your spine. If you struggle with back and neck pain, it’s absolutely worth it to look at your core and ways to strengthen it.
Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of misinformation when it comes to effective core-building exercises. The old method of doing endless crunches simply doesn’t suffice – and can actually do far more harm than good. The problem with crunches is they don’t work your core muscles in the right way, and doing them can result in damage to your discs.
The good news is there are some effective exercises you can start right now to strengthen your core. By working your core and building strength, you dramatically lower your chances of back and neck injury, and you also reduce back pain. For those who suffer chronic back and neck pain, this is good news.
Strengthening your core
Following are some additional benefits to a strong core.
• Improved balance. When you strengthen core muscles, you reduce your risk of falls.
• Better posture.
• More lean muscle. Building lean muscle means a healthier weight and more energy.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of exercise to strengthen core muscles. You don’t have to spend hours in a gym to accomplish this. You can work your core muscles every day, easily and with a few spare minutes here and there. Of course, creating a well-rounded exercise program that incorporates cardio and uses all muscle groups is ideal.
Following are some basic core moves that will increase strength. It’s always a good idea to consult a medical professional before starting any type of exercise routine – especially if you’ve had an injury. Core exercises that are simple to do, safe if done correctly and low-impact include:
• Tummy vacuum. This exercise is deceptively simple – you exhale the air out of your lungs, drawing your belly button in toward your spine. Hold and release.
• Forearm plank. The plank is a simple, effective and surprisingly challenging exercise.
• Squats. Most people think of squats as a “leg day” exercise, but when properly done, they are also an effective way to strengthen core muscles.
It’s important to work with your medical provider when creating any kind of exercise program. Another option is working with a physical therapist to find the best exercises for core strength. PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness offers therapy services to help you create a spine health and core strength program that works for you.
Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness, 1000 Fremont Ave., Los Altos. For more information, visit physiofitpt.com.