Let’s say you are lugging around a couple of grocery bags, bags of mulch (or ice melt, depending), hefting luggage, or even having to help your aged dog up a flight of stairs. Ever wonder what your beloved core is doing to help you with this? Probably not!
Even if you suddenly get a twinge or worse in your low back, you may not be thinking it’s a core problem. But it is.
Let’s take a quick look at what your core is, how it works, and how best to take care of it.
For starters, your core includes all the stuff below your neck and down to your pubic bone, not including your arms and legs. There are several major functions of your core that are extremely relevant to your health and well being on a daily basis. They are: insure integrity of your spine (no matter what you are doing), protect your organs, maintain your posture, keep you balanced if you are standing around or moving, and transfer movement from your lower body to your upper body and vice versa.
Given all that, you can understand why you hear about core training so much.
Keeping Your Core In Shape
Once you understand a bit about how it works, you can then appreciate how to keep it in good shape. Just for the record, here I do not mean washboard abs. Instead, Let’s talk about some basics. Here we go…a list of 3.
- First a bit of anatomy. There’s muscles that are very close to your spine, and inner organs. These are there to keep your spine protected during movements. Movements are the job of muscles that are more toward the surface. If you take a look at body builders, you can see these very clearly. There’s also another grouping that you could think about as forming the ceiling, the floor, and a wide belt surrounding your organs. That would be your diaphragm, your pelvic floor, and your transverse abdominus respectively.
- In a perfect world for you, when you are about to move, the muscles that are close to your spine activate first so they can provide stability for it while you move. That would include the belt muscle, your transverse abdominus (TA). Here’s an important side bar about that. Studies have shown that in most people with low back pain or injury, the inner unit and the TA do not activate first. That leaves the low back predisposed to injury. Makes sense.
- From all of this, you can probably figure out that it is important to train the inner unit FIRST to make sure it is on board for you. How do you do that? By doing the dreaded PLANKS, front and side (see below). And, perhaps the even more dreaded push-ups. Sorry, but it’s the truth. There’s also the Bird Dog exercise, which has become almost as classic as the push-up for training core stability (see below). Then you can go on to other moves where you basically keep your torso in place while using your arms or legs. That would include standing on one leg while lifting dumbbells (see last week’s blog, “Run Circles Around Your Fitness”) or even the good old stationary lunge. Standing or sitting on unstable surfaces (BOSU, physioball, foam pad) will also activate your inner core muscles as they work to keep you stable. After that, you can go on to exercise where there is more totally body movement involved.
What does this mean for your usual workout routine (after you warm up of course)? Basically use the progression mentioned above, starting with stability (and posture) first, and then adding in more movement as you go along.
Other tips for keeping your core on board…sit or stand tall as much as possible, including when you are about to do an exercise. Try not to round your back since that will deactivate your inner muscles and prevent them from keeping your spine safe while you are moving. This includes when you are sitting for long periods of time.
All the best,
© 2019-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.