Core StrengthPublished: 23-08-2011 | Updated: 03-10-2013
What is the core?
When we talk of the core body, what we’re referring to are the muscles deep within the abs and back, attaching to the spine or pelvis (including the lats, obliques, and transversus abdominis (TVA)). It’s more than just the visible six-pack muscles that seem to be synonymous with core training today.
These are the core body muscles from which movement originates and are the source of our stability. No matter what the training or everyday movement, it’s the core that keeps your body stabilised and balanced.
What is core strength?
We’re going to assume that if you’re reading this, you have a basic understanding of what the term 'Core stability' means. If you’re not 100% sure, then a simple definition is; "The ability to maintain correct spinal alignment, shoulder girdle position, pelvic position whilst moving the limbs".
With good 'Core stability' we are able to maintain a 'neutral spine position' and manipulate the body in a safe and efficient manner.
The benefits of developing core strength
The benefits of having good, strong core stability, for both athletes and non-athletes are vast, with main advantages being:
- Improved athletic performance
- Reduction in the risk of injury
- Better posture
- Greater performance of everyday activities
The reduction in non-functional movements when walking, running and lifting doesn’t simply reduce the risk of injury, but also helps improve athletic and everyday performance. This increase in performance is down to the core muscles working more efficiently.
Take running for example; With a weak core, the force from a foot strike will mostly be absorbed by the lower limbs and joints potentially causing injury. But with a strong core, the improved body alignment results in better transfer of force up the body, through the pelvic girdle and spine, to the upper limbs.
If you’re more inclined to hit the weight bench than the treadmill, core strength is just as important. Injuries such as lumbago and herniated discs are very common during strength training and are normally caused by lifting heavy objects (however, it can also be the smallest of movements that trigger these injuries). Trainees should be advised to limit rotational movement when in the forward flexed position (bending forward whilst twisting the trunk, as if picking up something from the floor which is to the side of you) if their core is weak. Although sometimes this movement can be unavoidable for athletes and sportsmen / women due to the body positions they find themselves in. Nevertheless, having strong core muscles that will support the spine and alleviate some of the pressure on the vertebral discs, should reduce the chances of injury.
How to improve core strength
So, what are the best things we can do to improve our core stability and strength?
Rather than training muscle groups in isolation, core strength is particularly enhanced by training the body as a whole, integrated unit.
Take the basic sit-up or crunch for example - this exercise predominantly works the Rectus Abdominus muscles, and whilst these muscles can help give you the ‘6 pack’ look, they are very much superficial and don’t contribute to core strength nearly as much as our other stabilising muscles.
To develop core strength we would recommend the tried and tested plank and bridging exercises. The variations of this exercise are endless and they hit all major core stabiliser muscles.
Similarly, anything which makes you less stable will challenge your core. Equipment such as; core boards / wobble boards, Swiss balls / gym balls and Bosu boards. Simple in their design and application, they are very good for improving our core.
Personally, I don’t think you can go too far wrong with working the body unilaterally (working one side of the body independent of the other) to get great core activation. Things such as single leg squats, one arm shoulder press, lateral / frontal raises to name a few. Other personal favourites include, anything with dynamic movement. Ball slams, certain kettlebell and clubbell exercises. The nature of this equipment forces your body to use the core, (The Turkish Get-Up comes to mind!). Cable towers are also a very versatile tool when working our core and woodchops or hanging leg raises are another couple of effective options.
So, in conclusion, if you want less risk of injury and better athletic performance; you should devote some time and attention on improving your core stability and strength.
Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness or exercise