Core Strength 101

Author: Grow Fitness
Date: 14/09/2017
Category: Grow

Engage the core? What does that mean?

The Core is your spinal stability. It’s what connects your upper body to your lower body.

Core muscles are often described as the ‘natural brace’ of the human body; when they’re working well, they stabilise and protect the spine and reduce stress on the intervertebral discs. Any movement you can think of – whether it’s running, jumping, hoovering or gardening – comes from the core and ripples up and down to the rest of the body. It’s super important.

The core can be divided into two; Deep and Shallow.

The deep muscles connect to the spine or work directly with muscles that do.

Deep muscles include the Quadratus Lumborum (flexes the torso sideways), Transversus Abdominis (supports abdominal wall and helps exhalation), and the Multifidus, (the long, deep muscle that runs all the way up the spine, connecting to each vertebrae and rotates and extends the spine). These muscles provide spinal stability with precise motor control. When you draw the abdominals in towards the spine, the lumbar multifidus is also drawn inwards, which keeps the spine in neutral. This is what people mean when they say ‘engage the core’.

The shallow muscles are known as the global stabilising muscles.

This muscle group is made up of muscles that are not connected to the spine directly, but instead connect the pelvis to the thoracic ribs or leg joints, allowing for additional spinal control. The shallow muscle group includes the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, QL and hip muscle groups. These muscles counter balance the forces impacting the spine with rotational force, and also control the pelvic-lumbar relationship, stabilising the thorax and pelvis during movement.

 

How does core strength affect the rest of the body?

(Or ‘How doesn’t it?’) The Core is essential for function and performance of the whole body; a weak core can impair the way the arms and legs function, potentially leading to injury.

It holds your vital organs in place, so increasing core strength will help to promote healthier digestion and a strong immune system. This is due to improved muscular tone and better blood circulation. They also provide internal pressure, which works to eliminate waste substances, exhale and also helps with childbirth. The Core muscles also defend your central nervous system from pressure placed on the spinal cord, and promote mobility in the trunk.

It doesn’t stop there. Core strength promotes balance and stability by training the muscles in your lower back, pelvis, hips and abdomen to work together. This makes everyday activities easier, and also helps to prevent falls later in life. It contributes greatly to improved posture; stabilising the top half over the bottom half of the body, keeping your spine in neutral alignment and in turn protecting your back, neck and shoulders from becoming tight and painful. Studies have shown that people suffering from chronic lower back pain who perform daily core exercises report a dramatic reduction in pain and discomfort.

If the above information isn’t enough to convince you to keep your core strength up to scratch, just think of the abs!

Here are some of our favourite core exercises:

 

1. Pallof Press (Deep Core Muscles)

This move enables you to work on maintaining rigidity throughout the trunk and hips. It works to counteract rotational forces and improves stability throughout the torso.

  • Connect a standard handle to a tower, and if possible position the cable to shoulder height. If not, a low pulley will suffice.
  • With your side to the cable, grab the handle with both hands and step away from the tower. You should be approximately arms length away from the pulley, with the tension of the weight on the cable.
  • With your feet positioned hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, hold the cable to the middle of your chest. This will be your starting position.
  • Press the cable away from your chest, fully extending both arms. You core should be tight and engaged.
  • Hold the repetition for several seconds before returning to the starting position.
  • At the conclusion of the set, repeat facing the other direction.
  • When you are confident that you can maintain a neutral spine and a strong core, try adding a squat.

 

How to Do A Pallof Press

 

2. Overhead Pullover on Swiss Ball (Deep Core Muscles)

This exercise works together with your glutes to help spinal stability, to keep the hips in line, and also works the pecs and the lats.

  • Place your upper body on the swiss ball and move your weight forward so that only your shoulders and head are resting on the ball.
  • Push your heels down into the ground to activate the posterior chain (switching the Glutes, Hamstrings and Calf muscles on).
  • Engage your core to make sure your ribcage does not flair up.
  • Start with your arms straight up in the air holding the dumbbell securely, and then slowly lower your straight arms backwards in line with your body (or as far as the range of motion in your shoulders will allow).
  • Perform the move slowly to maintain your balance.
  • Keep your upper-back over the centre of the ball throughout the move.

Overhead pullover on swiss ball

3. Roll Backs (Shallow Core Muscles)

This exercise targets the transversus abdominis and rectus abdominis. Focus on opening your hip joints to pull your hip bones away from your thighs. Maintain the spinal flexion as you rotate and keep the transversus abdominis engaged. Keep the shoulder blades stabilised and feet connected to the floor.

  • Sit up with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip distance apart, a comfortable distance away from your body (the further away they are, the easier it will be).
  • Think of lifting up from your lower back and extend your arms in front of you.
  • Begin to roll down your spin, pulling your navel in, creating a C-shaped curve with your lower back, making contact with the mat one vertebrae at a time.
  • Roll all the way down until you’re lying flat with your arms by your sides.
  • Contract your stomach muscles and begin to roll back up, arms forward, peeling your back off the mat, again, vertebrae by vertebrae.

How to do a roll back

 

4. Swiss Ball Russian Twist (Shallow Core Muscles)

This exercise works the obliques by using rotational force in the midsection. It also requires the hips and deeper core muscles to maintain balance.
Position your upper back on the ball, feet flat on the floor and knees bent to about 90 degrees.
Keep your core muscles engaged to stop your hips from dipping.
Extend your arms directly above you, hands clasped together.
Rotate your arms and torso to one side while the ball moves across the back of your shoulders.
Only rotate until your arms are parallel with the floor. At this point bring your arms back to their starting point and rotate the other way.

 

References

https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200636030-00001
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4395677/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/core-exercises/art-20044751?pg=2

 

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