Muscles that are commonly included in the ‘core’ are muscles of the spine (rectus and transverse abdominis, erector spinae, multifidus and obliques), shoulder stabilizers (trapezius, latissimus, rhomboids and pectoralis) and muscles of the pelvis (hip flexors, glutes, and hip adductors). Core conditioning exercise programs must target all these muscle groups to be effective. In doing so, you will gain optimal stability, the ability to improve the control of all body movements and advance your balance.
Weakness or imbalance in the core muscles is highly linked to low back pain and predispose you to injury of the neck, shoulders and hips. Weak core muscles often result in a misalignment of the appropriate lumbar curve affecting your daily posture. Stronger, balanced and conditioned core muscles help us maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine. Athletic performance is also greatly affected by core strength because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the shoulders and allow the transfer of powerful movements to the arms and legs. From the professional to the amateur athlete, and even the weekend warrior, the benefit of core training is to develop optimal functional fitness for both daily living and regular athletic activities.
The Goal: Your goal is to establish core strength and a strong foundation by forcing your torso to work as a solid unit simultaneously using both front and back muscles while moving the arms and legs.
The Program: There are many exercises that will strengthen the core, as well as exercise equipment that will assist in this training. Some of the best products for developing core strength include: Medicine balls, kettlebells, stability balls, rollers, balance boards and dumbbells. However, there are great exercises requiring nothing more than your own body weight that are very effective for developing core strength as well. These are often the very same exercises many personal trainers, athletes and coaches rely on for regular core training. Pilate and Yoga programs are also an excellent way for athletes to build core strength.
Follow these simple rules when performing your core strengthening program: 1) Do your core exes at least 3 times weekly, 2) Choose exercises that work you and your core muscles simultaneously, 3) Focus on controlled quality of movement, 4) Breath steadily and slowly.
Some simple starter exercises are: Abdominal bracing – laying flat on the floor with your knees bent, gently tighten your lower abdominals from your belly button down. Pelvic tilts – in the same position as previously noted, tighten a little firmer so that you flatten the low back rolling your pelvis forward. Bridges – again in the same position tighten and lift your pelvis up into the air, then rest it down. Increase the difficulty and increase your core strength with each of these be alternating arm and leg lifting while performing the exercise. The Plank – lay on your stomach, then raise up onto your elbows so that you’re resting on your forearms, elbows and toes. Tighten yours arms, legs and trunk. Harden with alternate leg lifting. Additionally, try quarter or even half lunges, and even push ups.
Once you have addressed the core, you are ready to begin your sport specific training. Be sure to also incorporate stretching prior to and after core strengthening. And always check with your doctor prior to beginning any exercise program to be sure that it is safe for you.
If you or someone you know suffers from trunk, back or limb pain, it is ill-advised to begin a new exercise program without consulting first with your Physician first, physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, chiropractor, physiatrist or other specialist who regularly treats spine and extremity pain. It is important to first get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of pain, as the specific exercises recommended will depend on the cause.