Your “core” is the internal muscles that keep the structure of your torso and protect your spine and vital organs. It can assist or hinder all of your functional movements, whether you are exercising or performing day to day activities. It is involved in every motion that we perform – including sitting, standing, twisting, bending and more importantly, balancing. Your core keeps you stabilized and the body in an upright position, supporting your posture as well as serving as a powerhouse to our extremities. Exercise and the training of these muscles is critical to our well-being, but core training doesn’t just mean typical “ab exercises” such as sit ups or crunches, which only target and recruit a minimal amount of your top abdominal muscles and very little of your core as a whole.
What Core Consists Of
Our core consists of multiple muscles through the abdomen, back, and hips. They include the rectus and transversus abdomen, internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae, multifidus, pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, latissimus dorsi and glutes – yes, our glutes. While that seems like a mouthful and a lot of muscles to be engaging in a balanced synchronization to assist with normal functioning, with proper core training you can become more mindful of your movements, creating an (almost) autonomic engagement of these muscles.
With the sedentary daily routine that many of us fall into our core tends to weaken without even being aware of it. We sit multiple hours of the day – we hunch forward looking at the phone screen or laptop – we slouch on the couch while watching tv – we compromise our spine by lifting heavy objects improperly – and to top it all off we don’t exercise our core stability, endurance or strength. If you suffer from poor posture, back pain or lose your balance frequently, there is a good chance that your core is weak and not properly engaging. Weakness also causes compensations and muscle imbalances, ultimately leading to injuries and pain.
Key Factors For Core Training
Overall core training is critical to our functional ability of our daily lives. It aids in keeping our bodies upright and is the powerhouse of all of the extremity movements and abilities, even breathing. Below are some of the important key factors when it comes to core engagement and training.
Our posture is incredibly important when it comes to our core and daily function – poor posture results in imbalances and weakness that can result throughout the body. A high percentage of people have some kind of weakness, flaw, or imbalance when it comes to their posture. By training our entire core including our upper back and shoulder blade region we can create mindful activation with movements, improving our posture and minimizing bad postural habits.
The core is the fundamental foundation and powerhouse of all of our movements. Our extremities – shoulders to finger tips and hips to toes – rely on our core muscles to transfer power during movement in order to avoid over stress on the extremities while they are performing tasks. If the core is weak, it puts more strain on the extremities, possibly resulting in injury and pain. If the core is strong, the extremities will move more effortlessly in turn helping protect the integrity of the joints.
The diaphragm – including the lower back, abdominals and pelvic floor muscles assist our bodies in effectively breathing. They are the primary workhorse for proper oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output. If the diaphragm and supporting muscles are weak, breathing is taken over by the upper chest and can become inefficient and dull resulting in shallow breathing. Shallow breathing can be detrimental for your overall health – causing fatigue, dizziness, over-all body weakness, and low concentration levels.
When it comes to exercising our core it is imperative to focus on stability, strength, and endurance. Core stability exercises are essential and have a profound effect on the overall function of our movements, especially balance. Core strength refers back to our powerhouse and the energy output of all extremity forces. Core endurance puts it all together with the longevity of keeping our posture upright and our powerhouse lasting through all of our movements throughout each day.
Work It Out!
Listed below are some basic but essential exercises to keep all aspects of your core functioning strong and lasting.
Body Weight Planks
Planks can be performed with arms extended on your palms, or on your forearms with the elbows at a 90 degree angle underneath the head of the shoulder. The key is to line up the body from heels, through the spine to the tip of your head, and holding the position.
Supine Hip Bridges
Performed by lying on your back, knees bent, feet flat, lined up hip width apart. You will then actively draw your pubis bone up and in neutralizing the arch in your spine (without sucking in), then push through your feet to lift your hips off of the ground, holding the position.
Single Leg Balance
This can be performed anywhere that is safe for your level and ability. If you are skeptical about your balance perform next to a wall. Start standing, feet hip width apart, then shift all of your weight through one leg, lifting the other off of the ground in front of you. Hold position, re-set, then shift weight into other leg and hold.
Starting on hands and knee – hands lined up under the shoulders and knees lined up under the hips. Keeping both the shoulder and hips squared to the ground, extend opposite arm and leg straight out as if you were trying to create a line from your finger tips to toes. Hold one side then lower, reset quadruped position, then lift the other side and hold.
Since we use these aspects on a daily basis it is important to implicate this training into your routine, therefore it is recommended to focus this specific training at least 3 days per week. Starting off each exercise can be held to sub-maximal effort (i.e. 20 seconds) then increased as the exercise becomes more effortless. Perform each exercise 3-5 times.
If you have any questions on taking your core strength to the next level, feel free to email me!
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About the Author
Growing up with an abundance of energy, McKenzie Stern could usually be found practicing an active lifestyle, participating in multiple sports including gymnastics, competitive cheerleading, soccer, flag football and swimming. After high school she attended Florida State College at Jacksonville and graduated from the Physical Therapist Assistant program specializing in rehab. While completing her internship for the program graduation McKenzie started working at a fitness facility as a personal trainer and fell in love.
With her rehab background she has been able to help multiple people improve their functional abilities, as well as challenge them to try things they never deemed possible – striving to take people’s weakness and transform it into their most prized strength. With a mindful approach, McKenzie’s passion is to help people become healthier and more functionally active as a lifestyle adaptation. Going on her 10th year in the fitness, health and wellness industry, she loves to work with all types of goals, including general weight loss/management, increasing functional abilities, core, balance, stability and building lean muscle.
McKenzie has been a resident of the Fort Lauderdale area for 4 years and is head fitness instructor at the Lauderdale Yacht Club. She also helps private clients throughout Eastern Fort Lauderdale. To inquire about personal training or wellness you can email McKenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.