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.
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.
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.