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It's All About The Core

March 10, 2011 - Dalia Jakubauskas

Back pain is perhaps the number one complaint I hear from clients when they first approach me for training. Sciatica and pain in the hips and lower extremities run close behind. More often than not, all of these ailments can be traced back to a weak core. I look at the human core just as I would view the trunk of tree. Without a strong trunk to support the branches of the tree, none of the extremities will function properly. Any comprehensive exercise program must start with and always incorporate core strength training. So, what exactly do we mean when we talk about the core? Too many people assume this includes only the abdominal muscles, when in fact, the core runs the entire length of the trunk and torso. The list comprising the core includes muscles that run the length of and wrap around the spine both front and back. These include the muscles most commonly referred to as a “six pack” located on the front of the abdomen; the muscles that run along the neck to the lower back; the obliques (both internal and external) that run from side to front of the abdomen as well as the opposite direction; and the deep internal muscles at your waist that wrap around the spine. Most people don’t realize it, but the muscles related to the hips and legs also make up the core. These include all muscles comprising the buttocks; parts of the upper thigh like the hamstring and hip adductors respectively located at the back and medial part of the leg; as well as the hip flexors, which are located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh. The muscles of the core make it possible to stand upright and walk on two feet. They also help control movements in any direction, shift body weight and transfer energy to the extremities. A strong core also distributes weight and protects the back. A good core-conditioning program has to target all the muscles making up the core to be effective. Abdominal exercises alone just don’t cut it and can even exacerbate a back problem. Core strength training exercises are the most effective when the torso works as a solid unit. That means both the front and nack muscles contract at the same time. This can be accomplished by concentrating on your posture when performing any exercise. Try this. Remember the old charm school technique to improve posture of placing a book on the head and walking without it falling off? Well this little trick works to stabilize the spine and helps you to stand as upright as possible. Your chin should be parallel to the floor and shoulders stacked directly over the hips. This position creates a natural arch in the back called neutral spine. To hold this position, you can practice something called bracing. To correctly brace, try pulling your navel back toward your spine. You should be able to breath easily when doing this and not hold your breath. When done correctly, this technique engages the deep internal muscles that support the spine. Concentrating on your posture also has added benefits of flattening the belly, and strengthening the back, and lifts sagging body parts located on the upper chest. (You know what I’m talking about ladies.) A simple core-strengthening program does not have to involve any machinery whatsoever. Body weight exercises like light hyperextensions for the low back, hip lifts, abdominal crunches and squats can be done practically anywhere and take less than 20 minutes to complete. A terrific basic core strength training routine developed by sports medicine physiologist, Elizabeth Quinn, that includes these exercises and more can be found at the following link:

The rewards of a strong core are huge. A strong core reduces back pain and improves posture. Still one of the bigger benefits of a strong core is functioning better during daily activities. Suddenly gardening gets a little easier or lifting a bag of groceries no longer means pain. Strengthening the core also improves athletic performance by improving the transfer of power to the arms and legs. Powerful movements do not originate from the limbs alone. They come from a strong and stable trunk. So if you want to hit a golf ball further or swing a tennis racket harder, work on your core. For a fit and balanced body, it really is all about the core.


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