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Getting to the Core

(Published in the Broomfield Enterprise)

Do you want to maximize your performance and prevent injuries as you walk, swim, run, cycle, ski, play tennis or golf?  Core Stability, referring to the muscles that support the spine, is the latest focus in fitness being touted as the key to ridding yourself of low back pain, improving your posture, and improving your athletic performance.  The claims are true.

Core strength helps you increase efficiency of movement, as well as avoid excessive wear and tear on your spine and joints.  Think of a snow plow, if the plow blade and truck are strong but the frame attaching the plow to the truck is weak, the frame can't transfer the pushing power of the truck to the plow to move the snow as well.  The force generated by the upper or lower body either starts, is stabilized by or is transferred through the core.  You need to have a strong core (in the plows case, the frame that bolts it to the truck), to move the power of the core toward the extremities.  The stronger you can make these muscles, the less energy you will waste and the more power you will be able to generate.

Developing your core is not as easy as just doing a few hundred crunches.  Rectus Abdominus, the ‘six-pack’ muscle we train most when doing sit-ups, is the top layer of muscle which is too far from our spine to give it any support. There may be a career as a stomach model with ‘six-pack abs’, but it has very little to do with supporting the spine or core.  The core muscles - the inmost abdominal, lower back and pelvic floor muscles - control and guide the motion of our vertebrae. These muscles provide the spine with the energy and support necessary to properly complete activities from the minor daily ones such as walking or sitting, to more advanced activities involving sports and exercise.  When these muscles work well we have good posture, our spine is well supported during movement and thus less susceptible to injury.  The large muscles on the surface have a stable base from which to exert force...that’s core stability! 

There are many ways to increase your core strength.  Pilates is a popular core training program. Pilates uses whole body movements designed to stretch and strengthen muscles, especially the core muscles, through a variety of planes. Yoga is another way to improve core stability, and flexibility.  Stability or Swiss balls have become very popular and can be found in most gyms or purchased for home use.  They provide an unstable base so you must balance when performing different movements. Try adding some of these activities 2-3 times a week.

You may be doing a million sit ups but are you really strengthening your core?  You’ll see immediate benefits in training your inner stabilizers.  You will maximize your performance, prevent injuries and walk taller.