‘The Core” as a term is thrown around loosely, but do you truly understand it and how to use it efficiently? What is the core? What does the core do? What exercises are good for the core? Today a physiotherapist is accurately answering all questions about the core.
There are lot of opinions and money grabbing schemes out there that are perpetuating the misunderstanding of the core; an important system. A dysfunctional core can lead to an array of injuries, with the most common being lower back pain.
When most people think about “their core” they think of their abs or six-pack region. While the abdominals are an important part of the core, we must also consider other muscles too and how they interact to stabilise our spine in certain positions. The rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor are also considered important core muscles. Without the stabilisation provided by all of these muscles, it would not be able to withstand the forces exerted by the arms and legs.
The role of the core is to keep the spine supported throughout movement; however, it also helps translate forces from the extremities of the body. The first law of thermodynamics is that “Energy is not created nor destroyed”, therefore force generated by legs or arms needs to be absorbed and redistributed effectively. Asymmetries and adapted compensations with posture or whilst moving can lead to incorrect positioning and trigger an injury.
Different positions can challenge the core in different ways. We need to practice and strengthen weaknesses whilst continuing a normal breathing pattern to build a robust core. Different activities require differing degrees of activation, consider something basic like making the bed. Something this simple requires stability through the core to ensure the load is not being taken through the spine. We can also relate this to exercise; Lifting weights, running, cycling, swimming, trampolining, etc. If the core has not been challenged in relevant positions, we will not be able to safely perform any of the above activities.
Let’s have a look at an exercise to challenge the core called Bear Crawl (throughout it’s phases – easiest to hardest):
Hands below shoulders, knees under hips, looking at the ground. Arch spine dropping belly button to the floor and then press the spine towards the sky, find the middle, chin tucked and long spine. (This is a great place to start from, Spine and pelvis aligned, regulate your breathing and try not to tense up through your shoulders and neck)
Note: Most people find this position hard to find, you can try it with sensory support on your back (e.g. a foam roller, broomstick or sleeping pillow)
Shift weight evenly through hands and feet, drive your knees wider than your hips and control your steady breathing. Again try and stay neutral without tensing through neck and shoulders.
Shift weight to opposing hand and foot, maintain neutral and breathing control, then lift opposite hand and foot into air and repeat. You can make this harder by speeding up and slowing down the movement when you have got the hang of it.
Try adding in a ball, or a fitness interval, or even an agility drill specific to your sport can make it more specific.
Note: If you have pain or any lower back tension, this exercise may not be for you yet
Your Physiotherapist will be able to assess what your baseline is to ensure you are accurately challenging your weaknesses, as well as not compensating or risking injury with exercises that are too difficult. Individual’s movement patterns and goals can significantly change what muscles they are able to engage in their core and use in different functional positions. Challenge your Physio with which exercise is the best way for your to strengthen your core while focusing on your specific sport/activity or weakness.