The core of the body is broadly considered to be the torso. Functional movements are highly dependent on this part of the body, and lack of core muscular development can result in a predisposition to injury.
Think of your core muscles as the sturdy central link in a chain connecting your upper and lower body. A healthy core keeps your spine, pelvis, and rib cage stable, protecting them from the impact of everyday movements and physical stress. The major muscles of the core reside around the belly and mid and lower back (not the shoulders), and peripherally include the hips, the shoulders, and the neck.
No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain. Thus, weak, or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and leg’s function. A weak core saps power from many of the moves you make. Properly building up your core cranks up the power. A strong core also enhances balance and stability. Thus, it can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities. In fact, a strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do:
- Everyday acts: Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, or simply standing still — these are just a few of the many mundane actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful.
- On-the-job tasks: Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks — like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well.
- Sports and other pleasurable activities: Golfing, tennis or other racquet sports, biking, running, swimming, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, rowing, and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core.
- Housework, fix-it work, and gardening: Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, hammering, reaching overhead — even vacuuming, mopping, and dusting are acts that spring from, or pass through, the core.
- Balance and stability: Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. Viewed this way, core exercises can lessen your risk of falling.
- Good posture: Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence. More importantly, it lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, too.
- A healthy back: Low back pain — a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their lives — may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it.
Core exercises are an important part of a well-rounded fitness program. Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability, whether on the playing field or in daily activities. In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles. Any exercise that involves the use of your abdominal and back muscles in coordinated fashion counts as a core exercise. For example, using free weights in a manner that involves maintaining a stable trunk can train and strengthen several of your muscles, including your core muscles. Some examples of core exercises include:
- Leg raises
- Mountain climbers
- Fitness ball exercises
- Bird dogs
- Bridge variations
- Hip Thrusts
Before each move in your workout, first engage your abdominals by tightening them — without holding your breath — as if preparing to take a punch. You will activate the core muscles surrounding your spine and tone your entire abdominal area. Engaged abs also help prevent injury when lifting. Some benefits of core strength include:
- Proper balance
- Improved posture
- Less back pain
- Healthy breathing and respiratory system
- Reduction in physical injuries
- Improved range of motion and mobility
- Healthy stability
- A strong back
These are just a few of the many health benefits of a strong core. You do not have to be a professional athlete to see how important core strength is. Simply getting out of the bed in the morning and taking a walk around the block are activities which are easier when you have a healthy core. Core strength also leads to an improved standard of living and way of life. This is because core strength is related to less chronic back pain, more energy and safe “everyday movement” than weak core musculature.