Bathing suit season is right around the corner. Worse, you’re going to be reminded everywhere, from your inner circle to countless advertisements selling memberships or the latest breakthrough in workout equipment. All the hype is built around building a strong, good looking core in as little time as possible. Eight minutes abs has transformed to five. Yep. Just five minutes. Television commercials tout the latest abdominal machine that you can use for minimal time with maximum gain. With all the excitement it’s fairly obvious that your midsection is important, but all the glory isn’t found in your appearance, but your ability to function pain free. For all the hype the core must be fairly important, right? Core strength is a necessity, not only for athletes and weekend warriors but also for everyday occurrences. Simple tasks of vacuuming, pushing, bending, and lifting all require core strength. Without it we eventually suffer injury in our extremities or spine.
Most of us understand the need to have a strong core but incorporating a program that is both safe and effective can be a challenge. A core program centered on abdominal crunches and sit-ups is an injustice. Not only have they been proven through countless research studies to provide damaging forces through your lumbar spine, both exercises utilize the muscle groups in a fashion in which their not intended. Second, don’t mistake your core for your abdominals only! It is important to recognize that your core consists of your abdominals, obliques, back muscles, hips, gluts, and adductors. That means your core routine is multifaceted. Your program should target your stomach, back, and hips and legs. A solid midsection is great for the beach, yes, but more importantly it allows us to complete daily tasks without risk for injury.
Our lives have become increasingly sedentary. We sit in our cars, at work, for three meals, and for leisure. The downstream costs are catastrophic. Sitting creates an environment that can accelerate the aging on our spine. Second, the slouched position you likely retain turns your core and postural strength off. You get weaker, less stable, and increase your risk for injury. At the very least, begin to improve your postural awareness. Sit up tall and avoid slouching. At first you’ll find that a posture correction will only last a few seconds, quickly adopting a poor position shortly after shifting your focus. It’s ok–with practice you’ll be able to sustain an improved posture with less conscious effort. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and feel your abdominals and low back tighten shift you upright.
As previously stated, core strength is more than looking good sans shirt. It’s about stability and for both life and sport. Stability at your spine allows for greater force production distally, which is extremely important if you’re lifting a grocery bag or throwing a football. It’s not uncommon for shoulder pain to plague a tennis or golf swing due to core weakness. If cannot generate stability at your spine the extremities suffer.
There’s a common misconception that a core program should emphasize moving your trunk through varying planes; however, a true program emphasizes stability. Our core muscles move our trunk, yes, but their truly designed to fire together creating 360 degree stability. Neutral spine, a position where spine is neither flexed nor extended, strengthening exercises are more beneficial especially for those with a history of back pain. With proper execution prone planks, side planks, bridges, and bird-dogs are a great start for beginning a core program. If performed properly, squats, lunges, and dead lifts can be a great adjunct for improving both core and leg strength. Of course with any workout program or general exercises consult a nearby physical therapist as not all exercises will be suitable for your specific needs. In order to prevent injury and maximize your results, it is important to modify the exercises to your capabilities and preexisting conditions.
Remember a strong core is more than being able to wash your clothes on washboard abs. A strong core is essential for both injury recovery and injury prevention. Common pathologies associated with the core weakness are numerous, but topping the chart is low back pain. Core stability is the foundation of movement and forever the jumping off point for injury rehab and sport performance. Increased strength and spine stability yields improved movement and function. With better movement and function we are less likely to injure. Plus let’s face it, who doesn’t want flatter abs for their bathing suit this summer?