Core exercises are an important part of any strength training program, especially for those just starting out. Many people think that the occasional crunch will be enough to solve any issues they have when it comes to a lack of core strength, however this approached leaves many muscles of the core neglected. Let’s find out why…
What is the Core?
The core is often thought of as just the abs, which makes it understandable as to why sit-ups are seen as the go-to exercise. Unfortunately, it is not that simply. Think about the core as a muscular box where the abdominals make up the front, the paraspinals and gluteals sure up the back, the diaphragm as the roof, and the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the floor.
This intricate construction can be understood simply as the body’s foundation for movement. It is the central region providing a girdle of strength and connecting the abdomen with the lower back and hips. These muscles, together with the spinal muscles, create a stable base for generating strength and providing support for all movement.
- Abdominals – the abdomen is a group consisting of four muscles: The rectus abdominis, also known as the “six-pack” is a superficial muscle sitting on the outermost layer of the core and is mainly involved in flexion. The transversus abdominis, which rests under the rectus abdominis, wraps around the core holding it together like a girdle and works to maintain good posture. Often times the in people with lower back pain the transversus abdominis is very weak. The internal obliques are deep muscles that help the body to rotate and flex to the side. The external obliques are another superficial musculature of the core just above the internal obliques which are important for rotational movements and side flexion.
- Paraspinals – made up of two major groups of lumbar extensors: the erector spinae and the “local” muscles (multifidus, rotatores, and intertransveri). The erector spinae is a group of three long tendinous muscles that run the entire length of the spine which provide support for spinal flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backwards) and aid in stabilizing the spine against lateral movement. The “local” muscles, mainly the multifidus is set deep and attached to the spine so that they may work to keep the spine straight and help stabilize through maintaining good posture.
- Hip Girdle & Gluteal Musculature – playing an important role within ambulatory activities such as stabilization of the trunk and pelvis and by transferring force from the legs to the pelvis and spine. The hip musculature consists of the psoas muscle group and the gluteus muscle group. The psoas, also referred to as the hip flexors, control flexion movements at the hip such as walking, running and climbing stairs. And for the gluteal musculature is made up of three muscles: the smallest being gluteus minimus, which lies beneath the gluteus medius, and works to lift the leg outward (abduction) as well as to internally rotate the hip. The gluteus medius sits just above the minimus, it assists with abduction, rotation (both internal and external) and provides stability to the pelvic region. The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three, it works to abduct and extend the hips in addition to stabilizing the pelvic region.
- Diaphragm & Pelvic Floor – The diaphragm serves as the roof of the core by providing stability to the lumbar spine via contraction during breathing. The pelvic floor musculature is coactivated with any transversus abdominis contraction and assists in stabilizing during movement.
- Quadratus Lumborum – A large, thin, quadrangular-shaped muscles that directly inserts into the lumbar spine. The quadratus lumborum works to stabilize the spine against lateral movement, lifting heavy objects and carrying items in one hand.
Why should we care about strengthening the core?
Strengthening the core musculature fights structural imbalances leading to such discomforts as low back pain which is one of the major forms of musculoskeletal degeneration in the adult population, affecting upwards of 80% of all adults. Research has shown that lower back pain is predominant among those who work at a desk, as sitting for long of time in a chair can cause the important muscles of the core to atrophy. Therefore, developing strength within this musculature is essential for maintaining a healthy posture, and leading a pain-free life.
What is an example of a core strengthening exercise?
Sliding Rollout from Knees
- Assume a kneeling position. Place both hands out in front of you on something that can move freely. An ab wheel, a Swiss ball, floor sliding discs or small hand towels will work. Think about squeezing all those muscles we just learned about and keep the head and neck in a neutral position.
- Lower your body under control by extending the hips and flexing the arms until your body approaches the floor. Keep the core and especially the gluteals contracted forcefully.
- Rise back to the starting position.
*The rollout is one of the best core strengthening exercises for beginners. If you use proper form and keep the core contracted, preventing the pelvis from rotating forward, your lower abdominals will receive even more of a workout. Break into this exercise gradually and make sure you keep the body in a straight line at the bottom of the movement. Many people sag at the hips or allow too much anterior pelvic tilt during the rollout exercise.
Just remember, core exercises should be seen as ones that not only help your “six-pack” but strengthen your pelvis, lower back and pelvis. Having all these work together in harmony leads to better balance and stability, whether you’re on the field playing or completing daily activities.