BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Most people think of having a strong core as having six pack abs, when it is so much more than that and a very important piece to being healthy. Your core is the powerhouse of the body. It's where your explosiveness, power, balance, stability, and strength all originate from, and having a weak core can be detrimental not only to an athlete's performance, but to your performance in everyday life.
Your core muscles incorporate all of the muscles from your chest to the top of your legs, front and back and facilitate healthy movement in all three planes of motion. The primary core muscles include your abdominals, obliques, and glutes. Your core also comprises deeper muscles such as your multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm. These important muscles help to keep your core engaged and stabilized during squatting, bending, twisting, and lifting. When weak and tight, you may find that you have increased back pain, bad posture, a higher tendency to get injured, and difficulty completing simple everyday tasks.
As an athletic trainer, helping patients with several types of injuries get back to normal performance levels, our evaluation typically leads us to assessing the core. Most injuries, we find, can be traced back to having weak or tight core musculature. This is true for people who work desk jobs and students as well. When we don't sit properly and carry heavy backpacks around, our biomechanics can be very poor which will lead to compensatory movements and increased pain. Those who are starting out with a weightlifting program may find that starting out with squats, deadlifts, and bench press may be too difficult. This person should first focus on core training and correct technique for a month and then come back and attempt weightlifting. An athlete with a weak core may find that they struggle to throw a ball effectively, can't jump and land efficiently, or they have an extensive injury history.
What exercises are we talking about when we are discussing core training?
Most times, the exercises people think of when they hear the word "core" is crunches and sit-ups. The reality is, those exercises are fairly useless because they recruit more of the hip flexors to work and can lead to increased back pain. Core strength should be about stability and deep strengthening. Here are some great core strength foundational exercises:
• Front planks, side planks, and their variations
• Bird Dogs
• Dead Bugs
• Clam Shells
• Band anti-rotations
• Mountain Climbers
How often should the core be strengthened?
By rule of thumb, your core should be specifically strengthened at least three times per week with a goal of holding the static positions for 60 seconds for 3-4 sets and performing the moving exercises for 3-4 sets of 15 reps. At first, start small and work up to these tougher goals. Exercises should vary each time.
For someone with a history of low back pain or bad posture, or if you're an athlete with a history of injury and muscular imbalances, the problem could be a weak and tight core. Give these exercises time to work as pain won't disappear overnight. However over a period of several weeks and months you should notice a distinct difference in your pain and activity levels. High school athletes who have access to an athletic trainer, should visit them for an evaluation and proper oversight of a rehabilitation program.