When you think about having a strong core, it may conjure up images of people with chiseled, rock-hard abs. While this can be a motivating goal, having a strong core goes deeper. After all, your core is much more than your ab muscles.
Where is your core, exactly? No, it’s not just that area around your belly button. Your core includes all the muscles deep in your body that attach to your spine and pelvis. Most health care professionals consider this the area between your diaphragm to your gluteal muscles and pelvic floor muscles.
“I think a lot of people confuse their core as being those superficial and visible six-pack abs,” said Brandon Blauser, a doctor of physical therapy at Banner Physical Therapy in Tucson, AZ. “This is somewhat true, as the rectus abdominus (those six-pack muscles) do play a role in stabilizing the spine but they are mostly considered ‘movers’ of the spine and there are so many other muscles that encompass the core of a human body.”
All core muscles either directly or indirectly insert into your spine and pelvis and they’ll play an important role in stabilizing, moving and protecting you. If looking like Thor isn’t motivation enough to get you motivated, here are five specific reasons you should give your midsection more love.
1. Prevents injuries
Whether walking to the fridge or running a marathon, we often think it’s our limbs that are doing the work. The truth is most movement centers at our core. A rock-solid center will help ensure your movements are strong and pain-free.
“Humans are like skyscrapers in the fact that we’re oriented vertically when standing,” Dr. Blauser said. “The difference is that a skyscraper will sway in the wind and need to be sturdier at the bottom whereas we move from both ends, so we need to be stronger in our midsections in order to stay upright.”
2. Alleviates low back pain
Research has shown that having weak core muscles can increase your risk of not only injuries but backaches as well. Core-strengthening exercises can help reduce back discomfort, improve mobility and improve support of the spine if you have acute or chronic lower back pain.
3. Improves posture
Ever wonder why those who do yoga, Pilates or barre seem to carry themselves a certain way? When you work on your core strength, it’ll help straighten the position of your spine, making you stand, sit and walk a little bit taller. And with better posture, you will breathe better too!
4. Enhances overall performance
Look at any Olympian or competitive athlete, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t have impeccable core strength. Whether a rower, golfer or cyclist, a strong core is critical to their overall performance.
5. Makes everyday life easier
Whether walking a flight of stairs, carrying a baby and even doing jumping jacks, having a strong core can also help you at home and in the gym. Not only will you have better control of your body (and things like your pelvic floor muscles!), but you also won’t overtax other muscles that may have to overcompensate for a weak core.
Tips to building your core strength
Now that you know all the reasons why having a strong core is important, it’s time to get to work. Here are some tips to ensure you do it safely.
Start out slow
Be careful not to progress your core exercises too quickly and focus more on your stabilizing muscles than your moving muscles (those abs). Often people start with crunches or sit-ups during a core program when really, they should focus on more deep muscle groups first to stabilize their spine before they move.
“This is particularly important for those who are prone to injuries in their back and legs,” Dr. Blauser said. “There is nothing wrong with sit-ups and crunches and people can still do them, but it is important when performing core exercises to first engage your deeper core muscles first before movement.”
An example of how to do this properly is to gently draw your belly button in toward your spine and try not to let your stomach protrude when performing core exercises.
While crunches are the most common exercise, they may not be the most effective way to build muscle and core strength. A great alternative is planking.
“Planks tend to be the safest and most effective for most people and there are many different varieties that can work different parts of the body and at varying skill levels,” Dr. Blauser said. “You can start out on your knees and then work your way up to your toes. Just remember to start slow and to ask a personal trainer or qualified person for help if you are unsure what to do.”
Consult a health care provider
Before engaging in any core strengthening programs, it’s important to talk to your health care provider or a rehabilitation professional first. This is particularly important for those who have underlying spine or back issues or who may have had a C-section or other abdominal surgery. They can help answer any questions or concerns and guide you on how to safely strengthen your core.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.