What is Core Strength?
"Core strength" is the latest buzz phase being thrown around the world of fitness; but does anyone really understand what "core strength" means? Many types of exercise disciplines develop core strength, such as Pilates, martial arts, and yoga. By strengthening key muscle groups, core strengthening can improve balance, stability, and power. Three primary muscle groups comprise the center of the body: the spinal muscles, the abdominal muscles, and the proximal limb muscles. Each group serves a key role and needs key exercises to stay strong.
When most people, professional or not, think of the spinal muscles, they think of the large global muscles that nearly span the entire length of the spine. Sure, these muscles are important for holding the body upright. So, some people specifically strengthen these muscles with devices like the Roman Chair . As important as these large muscles are, they do not complete the picture of spinal strength. Deeper, smaller muscles called the multifidus muscles are just as important. These short muscles only span three spinal segments and lie right "up against the bones of the spinal column. This local muscle group provides segmental stability for the spine like shoelaces that secure the spine together. After injury or surgery, the multifidus muscles can become very weak and atrophied, necessitating spine rehabilitation. Because these muscles are critical for balance, any balance challenging exercises, like a wobble board , will keep these key core muscles strong.
Wobble boards also work really well for toning the abdominal muscles, another key core muscle group. "Abdominal" is really a misnomer because these layers of muscles actually wrap around the entire center of the body like a built-in corset. And that is why they are so important for core strength; like a corset, the abdominal muscles protect the spine, contain the abdominal contents, and help to maintain balance. When most people think about the abdominal muscles, they think" six-pack abs". That "six-pack" is just the Rectus Abdominis muscle which is not nearly as important as another layer called the Transversus Abdominis . Stretching the conceptual boundaries of what is thought as the traditional "abdominal" muscles, also leads one to the floor of the body the pelvic floor. Here too lie some very important core muscles that keep the abdominal contents off the floor and support the low back. Many women try in vain to strengthen these muscles fearing urinary incontinence. Learning to do Kegel exercises properly is just one small way to help improve the strength of the pelvic floor muscles. With professional guidance, vaginal weights and biofeedback training are other ways to activate the pelvic floor muscles. Professional guidance is often needed to tap into the strength of all the different layers of abdominal muscles that surround the abdominal cavity. These muscles are worth the effort because they are the cornerstone for core strength.
Another basic building block for good balance, stability and power are provided by the proximal limb muscles. Proximal means that these muscles lie near the center of the body, close to the spine. As the primary proximal limb muscles, the shoulder muscles and the buttock muscles are the root of arm and leg strength, respectively. Unfortunately, in this day and age of sedentary life-styles, all of these core muscles get weak and lazy. Once this happens, the shoulders tend to droop and the butt tends to waddle. A thorough exercise program is needed to combat the effects of sitting all day at a desk. Push-ups, rows, lunges, squats, bridges" heck, even standing on one leg with good balance and form; all of these exercises can help to strengthen the proximal muscles in the limbs. Use them or lose them; the proximal limb muscles help to prevent injury, help to maintain balance, and allow for limb movements. Without these core muscles, life can get pretty painful in a hurry.
Speaking of pain, that is really what core strengthening is all about, preventing painful injuries or rehabilitating a painful injury. Without these muscles, the entire body can become prone to pain from misalignment and instability. With the central muscle groups of the spine, the abdomen, and the limbs, a person can run, jump, and enjoy life. What is core strength? Core strength is something you cannot live without.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.