When we talk about our core, we need to understand what our core does. In virtually every movement performed, the core muscles stabilize the rest of the body. The core or trunk muscles are the center of power in the body and the origin of our movements.
The core performs several functions including stabilizing the spine and assisting in transferring power from the lower to the upper extremities. You can think of the core muscles as the muscles connecting the lower body muscles to the upper body muscles.
Core stability is the ability to stay balanced when moving the body from its center of gravity and shifting weight from one extremity to another.
De-conditioned people or those with lower back pain have trouble stabilizing the core muscles. In many cases back pain is caused by an imbalance in the individual muscles of the core. Core muscles consist of the erector spinae group, the internal & external obliques and the rectus abdominus.
The most superficial muscle is the rectus abdominals, commonly referred to as the six-pack. This muscle shows its segments handsomely on some and is the pride of those who have such definition. The rectus abdominals acts to flex the spine and aids in rotation of the torso. The inner most muscle is the transverse abdominals. This muscle compresses the abdominal cavity. We use this muscle for sucking in our gut.
The internal and external obliques rotate the torso and aid in flexion of the spine.
The obliques differ from the rectus abdominals and transverse abdominals because the muscle fibers run diagonally across the torso and perpendicular to one another.
The erector spinae group consists of three muscles that run the length of the spine. They are the principal movers of the back and perform back extension, and lateral flexion.
When training the core it is important all of these muscles groups are worked accordingly. Doing crunches primarily only works the rectus abdominus. You need to perform several different movements in order to completely train the core.
Many abdominal exercises use a stability ball. When using one, it is important to select the right size. When seated on the ball your hips and knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Also, be sure the stability ball is properly inflated. Most of the balls sold come with a CD which runs you through the steps and shows a number of exercises.
Crunches are the most common core exercise. They can be done several ways. The most beneficial crunches are performed on a stability ball. This is because your range of motion is larger. As you curl your torso off of the ball and return back to the starting position, you actually go from spinal extension to spinal flexion. The same exercise can also be performed on a mat or bench but with a smaller range of motion. It is important to remember not everyone should start out using a stability ball. It may take time to gradually advance to this level.
In order to train the oblique’s we need to incorporate torso rotation. This can be done in more ways than possible to list. The most common oblique exercise incorporates a twisting action as you crunch up or perform a full sit up. This requires twisting your torso in alternating directions as you flex your spine. Other common oblique exercises would use a lateral side bend. These side bends, whether performed with a weight or not, target the muscles of the oblique’s as well as the erector spinae group.
Of equal importance to core strength are the muscles of the erector spinae. These muscles are difficult to exercise. The movement is the opposite of the sit up. To work these we need to perform spinal extension. In order to perform spinal extension, back extension equipment is the most utilized. This equipment is easy to use and does the job. This equipment can also be used for sit ups. In addition, there is the back extension machine requiring the user to forcefully extend their spine against a padded resistance.
We must not forget about Leg Lifts. They gently exercise you lower back as well as the abs. Leg lifting exercises can be performed at several levels of difficultly. Some people may suffer from back pain which can be aggravated when performing leg lifts. One modification would be to simply bend your knees up to your chest while lifting. Many people support the lower back by putting the hands under the small of their back while performing the exercise.
In conclusion, we can see the core encompasses many muscle groups. To maintain core strength and stability we need to train all of these groups. This involves flexion and extension of the spine, as well as torso rotation and flexion of the hips through various leg lifting exercises. To help you further, there are many smart phone app’s available strictly for strengthening and stabilizing the core. And most of them are free.