November 27, 2014
Core Training: Not Just for Abs

Core Training: Not Just for Abs

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

You may have heard that core con­ditioning (also called core train­ing) is good for you, but you may be confused about what that means—or even where your “core” is.

Your core mus­cles include not only your abdominals, but also those of the hips, pelvis, and low back. Some experts go so far as to include all the muscles between the sternum (or even shoulder) and knees as being part of your core.

Focus on your core

The core muscles help stabilize the spine and pelvis and are key in transferring energy from your torso to the smaller muscles of your arms and legs. The con­cept is that if the center is strong and stable, the whole body will move more efficiently.

This is especially important in sports. If you’re a golfer or tennis player, for instance, having a strong core can help make your swing more efficient. If you’re a swimmer, greater core stability can help better propel you through the water. And though studies are inconsistent, greater efficiency in movement may translate into better performance in some sports.

You need strong core muscles for everyday activities, too—for just walking, sitting, and standing properly, picking things up and getting in and out of the car. Other potential benefits of core train­ing are improved posture and better bal­ance and stability.

Pilates: More for the Core

This movement-based exercise technique was originally developed for dancers nearly a century ago. Pilates not only increase core strength and stability but also range of motion, flexibility and muscle balance.

Fewer injuries?

If your core muscles are weak, you’re more likely to injure yourself. For example, a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that young athletes who suffered injuries had weaker muscles in and around their hips, compared to uninjured athletes. After all, if your trunk muscles don’t function adequately, you may end up putting more force on the smaller muscles in your body. Consider a baseball player with a weak core who may put more force on his arm and injure it. Some back problems may also be attributable to an underlying weakness in the deep abdomi­nal muscles.

But few studies have evaluated whether core strengthening actually prevents inju­ries. In a study from the University of Ari­zona, published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, firefighters who did a 12-­month core ­training program had a 42 percent decrease in back and arm/shoulder injuries and a 62 percent drop in time lost from work due to injuries.

Getting started

There are many ways to work your core, whether you’re a trained athlete or rec­reational exerciser. It helps to start with a physical therapist or exercise specialist who can determine which muscles may be weak and what core program would benefit you most.

You also need someone, at least initially, to observe how you are engaging your back, abdominal and other muscles as you perform the various exercises, to make sure you are doing them correctly.

Traditional calisthenics that work the core include various abdominal crunches, hanging knee raises, hip lifts, push-­ups and squats. Two specific exercises are the plank and bridge. Exercising on an unstable surface—using exercise balls or balance boards, for example—may activate core muscles more than exercising on a stable surface, some research suggests. You can also use a medicine ball to train your core, or use free weights in a standing posi­tion. Pilates, yoga, dance and various gym classes (there’s even Yogilates) are other ways to get a core workout.

Pointing dog:Lie on an exercise ball, with hands on the floor and legs extended. Keeping your back straight, lift one arm and the opposite leg. Slowly extend both limbs fully, with toes pointed and abs contracted. Hold for fiveseconds, then lower arm and leg to the ground. Switch sides, then alternate 10 times.

Ab rolls: Kneel with your forearms on an exercise ball, with your elbows bent and back straight. Contract your abs, pulling in your belly towards your spine. Slowly roll forward as far as you comfortably can, keeping your abs contracted. Then slowly pull back using your arms and abs. Repeat 10 times. Stop if you feel back strain.