What is the core?
The core is the powerhouse of the body and is responsible for stability in the abdominal and lumbar (lower) back region. It involves the lumbo-pelvic complex and when engaged, it allows for smooth contraction and movement of the arms, legs and back.
Why strengthen the core? What does it do?
Strengthening the core is essential to prevent all forms of injury around the lower back. By training the core, the rest of the muscles in the area i.e. hamstrings, gluteals, back and abdominals, the muscles can work more efficiently and together. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.
Training the muscles of the core helps correct postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness; the type of fitness that is essential to daily living and regular activities.
Rehabilitation from Injury:
Core stability is an essential component of any rehabilitation program not only for low back pain and sacroiliac pain, but also for other injuries such as hamstring strains or general shoulder pain. By providing stability beneath the muscles that provide movement, core stability provides excellent rehabilitative properties for such injuries.
Sports Performance Enhancement:
Whether you enjoy an occasional gym session or whether you're an elite athlete, core stability should be part of your training regime. In addition to the above benefits, working on your core can greatly improve balance and twisting strength required in such sports as throwing, tennis, badminton, squash and swimming.
How do I engage my core?
In short, engaging the core means a simultaneous contraction of the transversus abdominus, multifidis, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles. This may sound challenging, however abdominal bracing is a basic technique that is used to teach the contraction. To correctly brace, you should attempt to pull your navel back in toward your spine. This action primarily recruits the transverse abdominus, should be able to breathe evenly while bracing, thus engaging the diaphragm.
What are the Core Muscles?
The core can be thought of as a cylinder of muscles around the inner surface of the abdomen. There are 4 main muscle groups considered:
Transversus Abdominus (TA)
The deepest of all the abdominal muscles and is considered to be the corset of muscle providing stability. The TA connects to the individual vertebrae of the lumbar spine and wraps right around each side to meet in the midline of the front of the abdomen. When contracted it functions to both increase the pressure inside the abdomen and pull tightly on the vertebrae themselves to provide exceptional stability to the spine.
This deep back muscle lies on either side of the spine and again connects to each individual lumbar vertebrae. It functions in extending (bending back) the spine as well as being an essential postural muscle keeping the spine upright.
The primary muscle for breathing, the domed diaphragm provides the top of the cylinder core. When the TA contracts, the diaphragm tightens to maintain pressure in the abdomen and so provides stability to the spine.
Famous among pregnant women, the pelvic floor muscles provide a sling running from back to front, from the bottom tip of the spine (the tail bone) to the front of the pelvis. It contracts simultaneously with the TA to form the bottom of the cylinder of muscles.
When all these muscles contract together they keep the spine in its most stable position, and aid in preventing injury. They are known to contract prior to any limb movement and so they function in keeping the centre, or core of the body rigid during all movement. Recent evidence has found that in people with low back pain these muscles fail to contract before limb movement and so the spine is vulnerable to injury. Thus retraining these muscles to contract at the right time is the fundamental theory of core stability.