Importance of Core Stability & Strength

Maintaining a strong core is important at any age; balance, posture and back health have been linked to core strength.  Your core is the vital “foundation” of all your body’s movements, whether you are walking, carrying a heavy bag or playing a sport. 

Most people think of the core as a nice six-pack, or strong toned abs, but the truth is that the abdominal muscles are a very small part of the core.  The abs have very limited and specific action, and what experts refer to as the “core” actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis, and run the entire length of the torso.  When these muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support.  When this happens, we are able to generate powerful movements of the extremities.

The core muscle group includes all of the muscles that are located in your torso that keep your body stable and balanced.

core-muscles-stability 

These muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction.  A strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and protects the back.   It takes many different muscles working together to keep your body well-aligned during different daily activities.

It’s easy to assume that when we are moving, our extremities are doing most of the work; the opposite is true; most of the movement starts at the center and moves outward.  A solid and stable core will help ensure that your movements are strong and pain free.

I’m guilty of thinking that our extremities do most of the work.  I’m a very active person; biking, hiking, running and swimming.  I twisted my hips towards the end of my race season and I refused to stop and rest and pull out of my races.  But after my race season was over, I had no choice but to rest and take it easy and let my body heal and realign my hips.

After a few months I started training again, but my legs felt so weak.  I focused on strengthening my legs because my way of thinking was the body part that doesn’t stop during a triathlon are the legs.  Because I was swimming so much more than the previous years, I assumed my core was being strengthened through swimming.   I became a stronger runner and swimmer last season, but to my surprise I struggled with biking.  I thought maybe it was because I was focusing too much on the running and swimming and I neglected biking, but the more I biked, the harder it was.   I did everything I could think of to change things on my bike, I even contemplated buying a new bike.  But I realized I was struggling on the spin bike, stationary and recombent bike too.  I felt not just frustrated, but defeated.

I want to be better at biking.  But almost everything I researched went on about the legs and very little about the core.  I was speaking with my co-worker who is a physical therapist, the first thing he said was I needed to focus on stabilizing and strengthening my core.  He said my legs aren’t the problem, it’s my core.  After a brief and simple conversation, it suddenly all made sense.  Because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the neck and shoulder, they allow the transfer of power to the arms and legs.  All powerful movements originate from the center of the body out, and never from the limbs alone.  Before any powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the extremities, the spine must be solid and stable and the more stable the core, the most powerful the extremities can contract.   

Finally understanding the importance of both stability and strength of the core has lead me to do further research and the reason why I decide to put this article together. 

Building a strong core takes more than doing crunches and sit-ups.   It is important to find the right balance between developing core stability and core strength.  In doing so, you work both the deep internal muscles and the superficial muscles.  They train the muscles in your pelvis; lower back, hips and abdomen to work together in harmony.

A great exercise to start with that focuses on both stability and strength is the plank.

 plank

It is not as difficult as it looks.  You can do this, and so can I.  You will do this, and so will I.

Stabilizing and strengthening our core muscles will not only improve our balance, stability and posture, but it will also improve our functional activities such as our everyday simple tasks of household chores, carrying grocery bags and tying our shoes.  It will also alleviate back pain and discomfort as well as improve athletic performance of all levels.

I hope this has intrigued you enough to want to make an improvement in your everyday life.  Please feel free to contact me if you need help getting started or if you need more advanced core strengthening and stability exercises.  I will be more than happy to help you get started.

 

www.mayoclinic.com

sportsmedicine.about.com

www.healthyalberta.com

Contributor, writer and information gathered by Sonia Petriello

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