What is the ‘Core’ & do I need to strengthen it?
The ‘Core’ is actually made up of a group of many muscles located at your body’s centre or trunk (basically everything but your head & limbs)! This group of muscles coordinate & work together to stabilise and control the pelvis & spine through everyday movements. Through the stability & control of the pelvis and spine, the ‘Core’ group of muscles impacts the strength and control of the upper and lower body.
‘Core’ strength is the body’s ability to effectively stabilise (create a stable base) & control (activate at the right time & intensity) the muscles surrounding the trunk/spine/pelvis, while moving dynamically in everyday movements. Maintaining stability of the spine and pelvis allows smooth and effective transfer of force through the body. This effective transfer of force plus good control, strength & stability then can prevent overuse injuries, help increase resilience and support rehab from acute injury.
For the average person, core strength is needed for simple every day activities such as:
- sitting up in bed
- digging in the garden
- picking up your children
- getting on and off the floor to play with children
- stand up from a chair
- be able to sit comfortably at a desk
- perfecting that golf swing
- or, casually kicking a football
For a highly active person/athlete, ‘Core’ strength promotes more efficient movement, therefore preventing injury and improving performance, for example:
- stabilise & rotate the upper body quicker (think of the strength & control needed for Winter Olympian’s Torah Bright or Scotty James)
- help a footballer protect themselves when tackling an opponent to the ground or jump higher for a mark
- help a golfer/tennis/hockey player hit the ball with increased force/power
- help a cricketer throw a ball further or assist/protect in fast bowling
Our body responds, adapts and builds resilience depending on how we stress or challenge it. We are a product of our movements. Therefore, the same strengthening goals will not be appropriate for everyone. We all have a certain level of ‘Core’ strength but we all also get into bad habits (like sustained postures at work) or have had injuries that have gradually weakened our bodies creating some form of imbalance due to how we live our lives.
‘Core’ dysfunction occurs when these habits/injuries cause muscles to activate poorly which decreases strength, endurance and support around the pelvis & spinal segments. Poor ‘core’ control occurs when muscle activations are too small, too large, too early, too late or not there at all.
Once you can identify how to stabilise effectively, the ‘core’ muscle group becomes a solid foundation for your arm and leg muscles. If you don’t have good ‘core’ stability, you now have a weak link. The byproduct of this weak link is injury or pain.
What are the ‘Core’ group of muscles?
This ‘Core’ group of muscles can be divided into two groups.
The deeper group are made up of ‘slow twitch’ muscle fibres, which means that they are good endurance muscles or they excel at supporting you over a long time at a low level.
- Transversus Abdominis – deepest muscle (furthest from your belly button)…(and the one you will hear most Physios are obsessed about)
- Pelvic floor
- Deep back muscles (eg multifidus & other small muscles between your vertebrae)
The superficial muscles are made up of ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres, which means that they are good muscles to access for strength & power but only for shorter periods of time. So, they may be powerful muscles but they fatigue quickly.
- Rectus Abdominis – the 6 pack muscle on the very top (nearest your belly button)…(and the one most people think they need to be obsessed about).
- External Obliques – 1st layer underneath (which helps you twist)
- Internal Obliques – 2nd layer underneath (which helps you twist)
When the deeper/’slow twitch’ muscle group are not working effectively or are ‘asleep’, we can rely too much on the outer/’fast twitch’ muscle group to stabilise. As the outer/’fast twitch’ muscle group are not designed for constant activity & fatigue quickly we can then feel weak & begin to ache, feel stiff around the trunk.
How can we train or challenge our ‘Core’ group of muscles effectively?
There is no one method of core strengthening that works for everyone. However, a basic ‘core’ program should focus on balancing out the front, sides & back support muscles located at your body’s centre or trunk.
Some people do well with strength based exercise classes (though it can be easy to do the repetitions without truly understanding the targeted muscle groups). Others prefer control/endurance style classes such as Pilates or Yoga to discover where their core is.
Highly active people/athletes may simply need to add/adjust to their core exercises to compliment their sports related movements.
The same core exercises are not appropriate for everyone, a trip to your Physio can help to identify what muscles may be dysfunctional. Your Physio can provide you one-on-one instruction and find a method that works for any person with any background at any ability level. Your Physio will then design a program or plan of attack to correct the coordination of your ‘core’ muscle group so that you are no longer activating your muscles with a too small, too large, too early, too late or not there at all contraction.
Book in today to get those ‘core’ goals happening now!