What is the Core?
The “core” consists of a group of muscles including abdominal, hip and back muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder. The core provides a solid foundation for movement in the extremities. Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all these muscle groups to be effective. The muscles of the core make it possible to stand upright and move on two feet. 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.
Core Strength and Back Pain
Abdominals get all the credit for protecting the back and being the foundation of strength, but they are only a small part of what makes up the core. In fact, it is weak and unbalanced core muscles that are linked to low back pain. Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine. Training the muscles of the core also corrects postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness – fitness that is essential to both daily living and regular activities.
Abdominal bracing is a helpful exercise to learn how to maintain mild abdominal contraction in order to support the lumbar spine. To correctly brace, you should attempt to contract your abdominal muscles. Be careful not to hold your breath – you should be able to breathe evenly while bracing.
Lie on your back with your knees and hips bend and your feet resting comfortably on the floor. To stabilize your shoulder blades, have your arms at your sides and turn them out so that the back of your thumbs are pressed against the floor. Spread your fingers out as wide as possible.
Your spine must be in a neutral position. (neutral means maintaining the natural curve in your spine).
Do not flatten your spine against the floor. Keeping this position, concentrate on contracting your abdominal musculature without “drawing in”. *Important: this involves hardening or tightening the muscles, NOT hollowing the abdominal area. You can feel if you are tensing the appropriate muscles by placing your fingers just inside your hip bones. You will feel the muscles get harder as your perform the abdominal brace.
Hold this position for 5-10 seconds to start. Repeat 3-5 times; perform 1-3 sets. Work your way to holding the brace for 60 seconds.
Once mastered, this technique can be used to enhance all core stability exercises and during daily activities such as lifting. Maintaining this position will help you get the most out of all your core stability exercises and protect your spine.
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