Over the past several weeks I have mentioned Core Strength in a number of my blogs, from preventing low back pain in pregnancy to avoiding sports injuries.
So what is Core Strength and how does it affect you?
The main part of core strength, also know as core stability, comes from the muscles that encircle our midsection. I am going to discuss, not just the ‘6 pack’ muscles, but the important ones that wrap around the middle like a girdle stabilisingthe spine and movement of the torso. As you can see from the diagram below, the core stability muscles are made up of the Internal and External Obliques, Transversus abdominus and lastly the Rectus Abdominus.
In addition to these muscles, the pelvic muscles and the buttock muscles also have a part to play.
These muscles work as a unit to stabilise the Lumbar Spine, provide strength and stamina on movement and have a shock absorbing action.
Our lifestyles have changed dramatically over the past few decades and not always for the better. Today, many of us drive to work, sit at an office desk or have a relatively sedentary job, drive home and then sit on the sofa. Like all muscles, the core stabilisers become weak when they are not used. This leads to low back pain and neck pain due to the lack of support and, in some cases, more serious damage, i.e. sciatica and disc prolapse. Typical complaints include a dull, constant low grade back ache, as well as a more defined pain on walking, standing for long periods or doing household tasks. Strengthening the core muscles is not just for sports individuals, it is vital for everyone who has a sedentary lifestyle, to prevent pain and injuries. Eventually, after a while of doing the exercises, you engage the core stabilisers in all activities, from driving to walking, gardening to hoovering!
Here is an example of a set of 3 simple exercises that encourage you to engage your core muscles.
Abdominal warm up.
This is a valuable exercise to teach you how to use your core muscles to stabilise the pelvis during movement, to learn a different style of breathing to help focus the contraction and warm the abdominal muscles. As you lift your shoulders off the mat you have to keep your pelvis stable and the natural curve in the lumbar spine. This prevents you from reaching very high, so don’t worry if you feel as if you have barely come off the mat.
Inhale. Tip your chin forward
Peel your head and upper back off the mat and gently reach towards the knees while maintaining a neutral spine. Repeat 10 times
Modified one leg circle
The aim of this exercise is to circle the leg while contracting the obliques and transversus to keep the pelvis and hips stable. You can monitor the pelvic movement by gently resting your hand on the opposite hip bone when doing the circles.
Contract the muscles in the waist and pull the navel back to the spine.
As you circle the leg away from the body, exhale to focus the muscle contraction. Inhale as you circle the leg towards the mid-line.
Do five clockwise and five anti-clockwise circles.
This is a beginners version. In the full exercise you lengthen one leg along the mat and straighten the other leg in the air. Imagine drawing a circle with your toes. The full version is more challenging, requiring a lot more contraction of the obliques as you are working with a longer lever.
Arm and leg stability stretch
Starting position: Knees, hip width apart and hands under the shoulders.
Navel pulled back to the spine and keep your back flat.
Maintaining this contraction, reach the opposite arm and leg out and imagine lengthening them towards the wall. Do not over extend the leg, as this will cause the low back to dip down. The aim of the exercise is to keep the midsection stable and the back as flat as possible during movement.
Repeat 5 times each side.Share