The Common Core
Core strength is critical for everyday activities such as placing heavy grocery bags into the trunk of your automobile, carrying a gallon jug of milk from the refrigerator to the dining room table, and even walking to the mailbox. When your core strength is diminished, even bending over to pick up a pencil may result in a serious spinal injury. Weakened core musculature causes simple, daily physical activities to be problematic. When standing up from a seated position or getting into a car causes you to experience twinges in your back, you may be sure your core muscles are not working in the manner for which they were designed.
Your core muscles consist of the four abdominal muscles – the transversus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques, and rectus abdominis – and back muscles such as the erector spinae, longissimus thoracis, and multifidi. The most important core muscle may be the transversus abdominis, a sheet of horizontally oriented muscle that lies underneath the other abdominal muscles and provides deep mechanical support to the low back and pelvis. Similarly important are the multifidi, a group of small, powerful, deep spinal muscles that interconnect pairs and series of vertebras.
In times past, when the concept of work meant actual physical labor, there was no need to pay attention to training the core. In those days, your core muscles were being trained all day long by lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling loads with heavy resistances and/or bending, digging, hoeing, planting, and raking. Working on a farm or in a factory provided more than sufficient exercise for the core. But in today’s developed world, farming and manufacturing jobs have been greatly reduced and the large majority of work is done in the so-called service sector. In the 21st century, people living in developed nations spend the largest portion of their day sitting at a desk. In such circumstances the core musculature will weaken drastically, unless specific attention is paid to training these muscles.1,2
The good news is that a wide variety of exercises are available for training the core. Most of them require no equipment. Many of them may be done at home and do not even require a gym membership. For example, yoga provides thorough and complete exercise for core muscles. Self-motivated persons might only need a yoga DVD and a yoga mat, minimizing financial cost and doing their yoga training at home. For others, taking yoga classes at a gym or yoga center might be more appropriate. But yoga is only one possible solution. Numerous highly efficient core exercises may be done on a physioball. Dynamic exercises such as the plank provide substantial core benefit and the only equipment requirement is a mat. Other dynamic exercises include squats, gluteus bridge, lunges, jumping jacks, and the grapevine.
When you spend the time to make sure your core musculature is strong, daily physical activities begin to be done with ease and grace. Back pain and other mechanical aches and injuries fade into memory.3 The overall result is a body that works efficiently and optimally. Thus, a strong core helps provide for a lifetime of health and well-being.
1Kumar T, et al: Efficacy of core muscle strengthening exercise in chronic low back pain patients. J Back Musculoskel Rehabil 2014 Dec 2. [Epub ahead of print]
2Granacher U, et al: Effects of core instability strength training on trunk muscle strength, spinal mobility, dynamic balance and functional mobility in older adults. Gerontology 59(2):105-113, 2013
3Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE: Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health 5(6):514-522, 2013