As definitions go, I can’t do any better than what the Oxford Dictionary presents for “core”: The muscles of the torso, especially the lower back and abdominal area, which assist in the maintenance of good posture and balance.
If you’ve even been marginally involved in fitness over the last five years I can virtually guarantee that you’ve heard the words “core training” used at one point or another. In some contexts it’s become another annoying buzzword that trainers like to throw around to prove their worth; however, in another context it represents a foundational training principle that has almost single-handedly changed the way we look at how the human body functions.
One of the key philosophies that comes out of “core training” is that the vast majority of the time the muscles involved work synergistically, and not independently of one another. Meaning that while training there is a much lower emphasis on muscle isolation and more focus on having key muscle groups work together, which makes sense if you consider the muscles that surround your torso;
transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae and longissimus thoracis, among a few others (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_(anatomy). Not to worry, there won’t be a test, but this at least shows you that we’re talking about several different muscles.
In this article we’ll be looking at why the core muscles should play an important part of your workout routine, and tips that will help you strengthen your core both directly and indirectly.
Benefits of core training
As the name suggests your core muscles are the center of your body’s strength. A strong, well maintained core will make you more powerful, as well as enhance your equilibrium and trunk stability. Let’s look at a few other benefits:
Preventing back injuries
Lower back injuries are one of the most common (and preventable) types of physical injuries out there. Most of the time I’d submit that the injury comes down to poor lifting form or weak core muscles. The obvious solution is to then be careful of form and exercise the core musculature in your thighs, lower back and abdomen.
You may not be thinking about balance right now, but you will once you hit 60. As we get older it becomes more and more important to maintain our balance through flexibility and core training. It’s simply a fact of life that we have to work harder to maintain our physical health as we age. It also goes without saying that any athlete would benefit from improved balance.
An improved posture is a guarantee from specific core training. This can’t help but happen as all of the muscles involved with your core are responsible for keeping you upright. Functionally as well, there are few musculoskeletal issues that can negatively affect an individual more than bad posture.
Exercising the core muscles, both with static stretching and an intelligently designed workout routine, are effective in enhancing flexibility and building overall strength. Since virtually every type of physical activity involves the use of these muscles it only makes sense that a stronger and more flexible core will benefit you and your performance.
Core training tips
Stability balls/balancing devices – You’ve probably seen people laying or standing precariously on some shaky object at the gym while holding some type of weighted object above them. Whether its stability balls, balance boards, balance disks, or a similar piece of equipment, they all provide a measure of instability to help work your core muscle groups in various ways. For the most part they are effective if used correctly and prudently. If you chose to incorporate them into your workout routine just be sure to focus on form and check your ego at the door regarding the amount of weight you’re lifting, using them can be a humbling experience. Find some great stability exercises here: http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/gear/equipment/best-stability-ball-exercises/
Medicine balls – Medicine balls can easily provide you with an intense workout that will absolutely fry your core muscles. Whether it’s slamming the ball on the ground or throwing it for height or distance, medicine balls will work you from head to toe. As with any type of weighted implement, don’t go too heavy until you’re very comfortable with the movement pattern and you’ve developed the strength to handle the movement effectively. Find great medicine ball exercises here: http://www.performbetter.com/wcsstore/PerformBetter/catalog/assets/Excercisesheets/PDF/MedBall%20Handout.pdf
Standing up – As far as core training goes, there are certain exercises that have more of a synergistic effect on the musculature of the core than others. In this group I would place any standing overhead movements. When you lift a weight overhead, a heavy kettlebell let’s say, you’re forcing your lower back and midsection to hold your body in place, to stabilize yourself against the downward force of the weight and gravity. In other words, your body becomes the bench and your trunk muscles are forced to work overtime. By standing up, lifting overhead and not using a weight belt you create an exercise environment that will always be focused on developing the core.
Developing a strong core should be at the top of your priority list when it comes to physical accomplishments. Your efforts will be rewarded tenfold with the following results; injury prevention, improved posture, balance and performance. Remember how is a strong core developed? By implementing stability balls and balancing devices in your core training workout plan, by incorporating medicine balls in your workout plan and by standing up, lifting weight overhead and throwing aside the weight belt. For more on core training and strength development please go to http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/abdominalcorestrength1/a/NewCore.htm. Now go to it and best of luck!