When many people hear “core” or “core strength”, they think 6 pack abs and tons of crunches. But your core is much more than having a defined stomach and looking good in your bathing suit. In fact, your core is the true foundation and structure for your entire body and having a strong core is essential to maintaining healthy and pain-free body movements. In this article, we’ll discuss why core strength is so important and common injuries related to poor core strength. We’ll also dive into some exercises you can do at home to help build core strength and the mistakes you should be avoiding.
Building core strength helps to prevent injuries and maintain overall balance. Even though your core is made up of some of the most essential muscle groups of the body, it tends to be the easiest muscle group to forget. The core not only includes muscles in the front of your stomach, but also the sides of your torso and along the back. Many people focus on exercising their arms and legs, performing lots of cardio or even focusing on just their stomach, but many patients forget about the core as a whole, which stabilizes the spine and keeps your whole body moving!
Injuries Affected By Poor Core Strength
The majority of core related injuries involve the back. Most lumbar pain comes from a weak, unstable core. Since your core muscles are the trunk of the body, any weakness in this area can lead to an array of back problems. Patients with core instability are also more prone to fall accidents.
Other less obvious injuries affected by a lack of core strength are related to lower extremity pains of the legs and hips. If your core and back are weak and less sturdy, other parts of your lower body have to compensate, adding pressure and instability to these areas. Many patients with leg and knee pain often have it stem from poor posture and a lack of core strength.
Never fear! Physical Therapists stress core stability & management and develop all kinds of routines/ protocols to help a patient build a strong foundation in their core. In clinic, many therapists build exercises around Swiss Ball routines to promote good posture and to keep the core engaged. All exercises focus on challenging balance for core stabilization, pelvic control and posture control. When working on other injuries of the body not specific to core (such as a knee or back injury), the therapist will always emphasize engaging your core while completing the appropriate exercises.
Building Your Core at Home
Practice makes perfect! Working on small techniques at home to strengthen your core muscles will help manage pain and develop overall strength across your entire body. BEWARE; there are some exercises and techniques that may be doing you more harm than good.
To stabilize/engage your core, tighten your abdominal muscles and essentially, brace the trunk of your torso.
- Start all of your exercises with a stretching routine. Be sure to warm up your body for at least 5-10 minutes so that you are stretching loose muscles, not tight, cold ones.
- In your every day while sitting in a chair, keep your core engaged and sit upright with straight posture, feet firmly planted on the floor. It should be no surprise that slouching is BAD for you.
- Balance training while doing routine chores can also be an effective way to work on core strength. Examples of this include standing on 1 foot while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes or performing plank exercises while watching TV.
- Group exercise classes such as Yoga and Pilates are also great for developing a strong trunk and balance skills.
- Many gym goers will want to increase the weights they use while working out. This can be good for building overall strength but if you are not using proper form and technique, heavier is not always better.
- Doing tons of ab work is not the answer either. Many abdominal exercises, like crunches and sit-ups, can negatively affect the body, specifically increasing neck and back pain instead of building up your core muscles. These moves might give you a six-pack, but they do not add any stability to your framework.
- Additionally, weight machines at the gym that work your back and core can also be dangerous to your body, particularly machines that involve torso rotations and hyperextension of the back.
The most important thing to remember is when performing an exercise for any body part, always be sure to stabilize your core!