What is Core Strength?
Most people think of their core as a nice six-pack, or strong, toned abdominal muscles, but the truth is that these muscles are a very small part of your core. The abdominal have very limited and specific action, and what experts refer to as the “core” actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis, and run the entire length of the torso. When these core strength muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support. When this happens, we are able to generate powerful movements of the extremities. More importantly having good core strength stabilises the spine which is crucial for keeping ongoing back pain at bay.
What are the Core Strength muscles?
The core strength muscles include a large group of muscles, and while there is no defined list here are some of the most important players:
Erector Spinae: these run down the back parallel to the spine
Rectus Abdominus: these are the external abdominal muscles, sometimes referred to as the “six-pack” muscles!
Multifidus: deeper than the Erector spinae, these crucial Core Strength muscles get severely atrophied within 24 hrs of a moderate back injury, and do not strengthen correctly without specific core strength exercises.
The Obliques (Internal & External): running on the sides of the abdomen in opposite direction to one another
Transversus Abdominis: this deep, and thin muscle is sometimes considered to be the holy grail of core strength, and is indeed important, but in reality works as part of a group of muscles to keep good core strength.
The large Gluteal muscles and hip flexors also play a key role in the function of correct core strength.
Benefits of Good Core Strength
Good Core Strength Keeps Back Pain at Bay: Poor Core Strength is a key contributor to ongoing, chronic back pain, especially low back pain. Having poor core strength destabilises the spine, leaving it poorly supported and therefore increases load onto the intervertebral discs and facet joints.
Good Core Strength Improves Posture: Improving your core strength will greatly improve your functional fitness. This may not be a “visible” benefit as you will not expect to see a visual change, but having great core strength with absolutely improve your day to day fitness, allowing you to complete all of your everyday tasks, such as sitting at your desk all day, with sufficient control that you won’t end up with that nagging, gripey back pain!
Good Core Strength Improves your Athletic Performance: Almost every sport i can think of requires great core strength! Why? Because great core strength means a stable spine. A stable spine allows the big powerful muscles around it, the shoulders and hips / legs to move and use these big muscles to fulfil their prime purpose, i.e. to move that limb! Poor core strength cause some of these big muscles to adapt and help stabilise the spine and trunk.
Best Exercise for Beginners?
Have a look at the embedded video below for two really great starters exercises. Once these have been tried, and things feel easy then the next big three to move onto are the Dead Bug Exercise, the SideBridge Exercise and the Quadriped Exercise. You can think of these as the “core” core strength exercises. As always though, please consult with an expert practitioner before starting if you have any back pain at present.