Most of us have heard about core stability and more than likely tried at least one of what seems like an infinite number of different exercises to improve this core stability, but what exactly is our core? and why does it have to be stable?
Simply put, our core is our body, the base on which our limbs move. When this base is stable it allows the limbs to function with more control and power. If you think about your body you will notice it is quite rigid in both the thoracic (chest) region and pelvic region due to bony structures, and less rigid in the abdominal region. For this reason core exercises are focused on strengthening the abdominal region, or maybe better put, the region between our rib cage and pelvis including both the abdominal and lower back muscle groups. Being strong in this region helps us maintain a neutral spine when needed, controls available movement and provides a stable base in more positions for our limbs to move on.
The diagram above has a cross section of the abdominal region, highlighting how our muscles surround the abdominal cavity to control the spine. Control of the spine can be described as the ability to stabilize spinal segments and provide a strong platform for limb movement across varying positions. This control involves the synchronization of a number of muscles, each with their own task.
Transversus Abdominus and Multifidus help control individual spinal segments due to their anatomical attachments spanning a single joint. The Obliques, Rectus Abdominus, Erector Spinae and Quadratus Lumborum are larger muscles spanning multiple joints and produce multi-segmental spinal mobility. These muscles work together to provide both movement and stiffness of this region as required.
Strong core muscles reduce the load applied to spinal connective tissue and intervertebral discs which in turn decreases the chance of damaging this area. Building a strong core is not as simple as lying down and doing as many sit ups as possible. You want to challenge the different muscle groups in varying positions. The videos below show a few different ways of doing this. As mentioned before, there seems to be an infinite number of core exercises, these are some great ones for varying levels of ability.
Anti-Rotation's help to activate and strengthen your obliques. Hold a resistance band or cable weight at your belly button, step to the side then straighten your arms. Tighten your abdominals to prevent the rotation applied by the force of the band twisting your body. Focus on your abs doing the work and not your arms. Aim to hold for 30 seconds with a neutral lumbopelvic position. Resistance can be adjusted by stepping further to the side or increasing the weight. Perform in both directions to evenly work both the internal and external oblique muscles
Bird Dog's combine both antero-posterior (forwards & backwards) stability with rotational stability. Maintain a strong core and slowly lift alternate arm & leg without allowing your body to twist or sag towards the ground. Aim for a straight line from wrist to ankle & hold for 5-10 seconds.
This can be progressed by narrowing your base of support, bring your hands and knees together in your start position so they are close to the mid-line.
Progress this further by raising up onto your toes as you perform the exercise.
Most people who have tried to strengthen their core have performed planks at some point in time. To take this exercise to another level you can do single arm planks. This challenges the rotational stability as you prevent your unsupported side from dropping towards the ground. As with conventional planks, aim to hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute and as always, the main focus should be on correct form.
Challenge yourself with some of these variations to core exercises.
Build a Strong Core to prevent feeling sore!
The Gap Physio