Strong to the CORE!

Why are Core Exercises So Crucial? 

You probably hear mention of your ‘core’ or ‘core muscles’ every time you work one-on-one with a personal trainer, in a boot camp session or in a gym class. It basically goes with the territory of fitness regimes and exercising. 

But why does it play such a leading part in exercise? What is this ‘obsession’ with the core? 

Well, if you knew how important your core is to the efficient functioning of your body, you would give it plenty of attention in your workout. Any well-planned, inclusive fitness programme will involve core exercises so it’s probably a good idea to understand what are your core muscles. 

Your stomach, middle and lower back contain the key core muscles. If your core muscles are weak or lack flexibility, this can have a detrimental impact on the functionality of the rest of yourbody. If you exercise to build up your core, then you improve the power in your limbs. 

‘Kinetic Chain’ 

Some of you may even have heard about the ‘Kinetic Chain’, the name which refers to the basic movement system of the body. The ‘Kinetic Chain’ goes from the top of your spine through your hip joints and knees, ending in your feet and ankles.  

All of the parts of this ‘chain’ – muscles, joints and nerves – work together so if you are active and healthy, they will combine to generate motion. If your core muscles are not healthy, any attempted movement interacting with your Kinetic Chain will risk being weak, inadequate and maybe fruitless. 

Your core does a great job in protecting your internal organs, helping the efficiency of your breathing and other activities which require strength and control such as childbirth, heavy lifting and climbing. The core even comes into play when you sneeze, cough or laugh (ever done a hard core sesh and winced the next day when you sneeze?) 

So How Does Exercising the Core Muscles Help? 

By working the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and trunk, core exercises will ‘educate’ them to all work together and help improve and maintain balance and stability. This can help you avoid or alleviate back pain, adjust posture and maintain functional fitness i.e. help those everyday movements which your body needs to perform just to manage your daily activity.  

If you can strengthen your core muscles you will find it easier to perform all sorts of activities which will seem to be unconnected with the strength of the muscles in your trunk and abdomen. Reaching for items on a shelf, bending down, squatting, pushing a vacuum cleaner, climbing stairs, digging the garden, mowing the lawn, ironing, pulling, lifting and, believe it or not, even just standing still! All these actions require movements which incorporate muscle groups within your core which, when benefiting from regular, focused exercise, can work far more effectively and efficiently and avoid injury. And that, in turn, can help to prevent pain. 

On the other hand, if your core muscles are weak then you may experience lower back pain and poor posture, amongst other symptoms. 

Your balance can be affected by your core muscles; the stronger and more flexible they are, the greater will be your ability to maintain your balance and stability, which helps, not just in everyday tasks as covered above, but also if you play sports or undertake any physical activity.  

At this point it might be worth mentioning the bit of the body that most people think of when they hear “core muscles” mentioned: The abdominal muscles or ‘Abs’. While they are part of your core muscle group, you should be careful not to focus on them to the exclusion of your back or hips. In fact, overdoing exercising your abs can risk injury in the other areas. 

Which Exercises Work Best?

There’s FAR too many to list here, but I’ve got a few covering the different parts of your core, loosely divided up:

Transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus exercises (‘6 pack’ and below the tummy button)

Crunches/curl ups

Knee folds or toe taps

Leg raises

‘bicycle crunches’

planks

Obliques (sides,/ the ‘corset’)

Side bends

Heel reaches

Side planks

Glutes and lower/mid back:

Glute thrusters

Back extensions

Planks

Deadlifts

And I for one, as most of my clients will confirm, always ask for “quality” rather than number of repetitions when instructing. It’s not how many you do but the way that you do them that most influences the outcome of an exercise. 

acknowldegements:

The importance of working your core: Physio & Pilates Central (physiotherapycentral.co.uk) 

Why the core muscles are so important (healthylivinglab.com) 

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