The terms core strength, core work or core strengthening are well used in today’s health culture; but what does it really mean?
To make it more confusing different people use the term when referring to different things or use ‘core’ interchangeably with ‘abdominals’.
What is the difference between core and abdominal muscles?
Core muscles can be described as a group of muscles that have a primary role of aiding support of your spine in your abdominal region. You can think of them as a barrel with your abdominal and paraspinal muscles forming the walls, your diaphragm forming the roof and the gluteal and pelvic floor muscles forming the floor. Core muscles are stabilisers, and do not produce big movements. Generally speaking core muscles form the inner layers of our muscles. The muscles commonly referred to as your ‘abs’ are often thought to be a part of this ‘core’ group. However, the primary role of this muscles is to flex your trunk froward like you do when you complete sit up exercises. These muscles are movers and produce bigger movements than core muscles and are generally part of the superficial muscle layer – or layer closest to the skin.
So what do we mean when we talk about core strengthening?
The aim of core strengthening is to increase the ability of your stabilising muscles to better support your spine. There are many benefits of strengthening your core.
- Daily activities like gardening, housework, bending and twisting all become easier when you have a strong core.
- Prevent injuries as it provides more support to your spine
- Strengthening your core can help to reduce or prevent low back pain.
- Your core strength contributes to your balance as it stabilises your spine and allows your body to better deal with unexpected disturbances. Core strengthening can help to increase your balance and in turn may work to decrease your risk of falls.
- Contributes to good posture.
All of these factors will lead to decreased stress on the spine and decreased risk of injury.
How do I strengthen my core?
There are some easy exercises that you can complete at home that will enable you to start strengthening your core.
- Lying on your back with your knees bent, find the top of your hip bone at the front. Walk your fingers towards your belly button about an inch, and down an inch. Have a nice deep cough. You should feel a pressing against your fingers – this is the muscle we want you to work (working at 10/10)- the Transverse Abdominous or TA for short. To start out with turn this muscle (at 5/10) on while you do 5 deep breaths. The better you get, the more breaths you can do.
- As per exercise one, when you are confident you can hold your TA on while deep breathing, try straightening your leg out one at a time by sliding our heel along the ground. The aim is to keep your TA turned on throughout the entire movement. Start by doing this 3x 5 times.
- Lying on your back with your knee bent draw your pelvic flaw muscles up towards your head. Think of your pelvic floor muscles as lining the top of your pelvis. This is the muscle you use to stop yourself from urinating. Start by doing this 3 x 5 times.
- Sitting on a chair squeeze your bottom muscles together while continuing to breath normally. Do this 3x 6second holds to begin with. To progress this exercise lie on the ground with your knees bent and using your bottom muscles, lift your bottom off the ground so that there is a straight line from your knees down to your neck. Start with 3x 20second holds to begin with. These exercise can be done daily to strengthen your core. An easy way to fit them into your schedule is to do them lying in bed when you wake up in the morning or before you go to sleep at night.
If you have any concerns about back pain or would like a more tailored core strengthening program please contact us to arrange your assessment with one of our Exercise Physiologists.