Don't Ignore Your Core
It's fundamental to fitness. Here are 7 facts you may not know.
Your body's core plays a crucial role in your health, strength and agility. But if you’re like most people, there are things about it that you’re not aware of. For example:
1. The core is where all your movement comes from. Activities of daily living such as shoveling snow, picking up a child, lifting groceries—in fact, any movement of the extremities—start there. “Without working the core, we couldn’t even sit in a chair,” says Jacque Ratliff, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “We’d be slouched over in a ball on the floor.”
2. The core system actually has three components. “Three systems work together in the core,” explains Tom Modica, director of inpatient rehabilitation at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. “They are the passive system, which is your ligaments, supporting structure and vertebrae; the active system—your muscles; and the neural component, which is your brain telling each part of your core how to work to provide the level of stability and force you need for whatever activity you’re trying to perform.”
3. Abs are only the beginning. “Most people think of the core as just the abdominal muscles in the trunk,” says Ratliff. “Actually, it’s a collection of muscles attached from your shoulders all the way through your hips.” The primary core muscles include:
- rectus abdominis, the “six-pack” muscle erector
- spinae, large muscles that extend from the sacrum all the way up the back
- external oblique, which pulls the chest downward
- internal oblique, which helps you rotate and bend from your trunk
- transverse abdominis, the deepest abdominal muscle, which wraps around your spine
- multifidus, thin muscles deep in the spine that help keep weight distributed properly along the spine
4. A weak core could be causing your lower-back problems. If the muscles of your lower back, glutes and even hips are weak, you probably have poor posture and are putting stress on your spine and related muscles, tendons and ligaments.
5. Working your core cam help mitigate the effects of aging. “As people get older, they begin to lose proprioception, which is the ability to sense where their body is in space. That’s why they are at risk of falling down or tripping over a rug,” explains J. Christopher Mendler, M.D., medical director at HNH Fitness in Oradell. “As we age, having core strength and the ability to maintain postural balance becomes huge.”
6. Your regular workout is probably not working your core. Unless, that is, it involves yoga or Pilates. Running doesn’t adequately work the core; nor does lifting weights, Zumba, a cardio-based workout, most sports (such as tennis) or even crunches alone.
7. Fortunately, it's easy to include core work in your fitness routine. “Core stuff is simple, and you don’t need fancy equipment or a thousand-dollar machine,” says Modica. “All you need is your body and the will to do it for about 15 minutes a day.”
“The primary movement patterns for strengthening the core are pushing, pulling, rotating, lifting (as in bend and lift) and single- leg exercises,” Ratliff explains. “Push-ups, standing squats, planks and balancing on one leg with your arms out to the side will all work the core.” You can find a library of core exercises on the ACE site (acefitness.org) or at the Mayo Clinic site (mayoclinic.org) and at many other websites. Several of the fitness regimens in “Fit to be Tried” on page 24 of this magazine emphasize core strength.