When you think about your core, you probably think about your abs. However, there’s a lot more to it than that! Your core is made up of multiple muscles, including the transverse abdominis, the internal/external obliques, rectus abdominis, posterior erector spinae muscles, the multifidus, gluteus maximus/medius/minimus, the hamstrings, quadratus lumborum, pelvic floor, and the diaphragm. Essentially your core includes all of the muscles in your torso that keep your body stable and balanced. They’re also split into two different types of muscles-the stabilizers and the movers. The stabilizer muscles attach directly to the spine and support its movement, and the movers are the muscles that support the stabilizer muscles and work with them to move your body. All these muscles work together to support the body and move it safely. The core muscles provide a great base of support, allowing you to move your body to do everyday tasks and participate in physical activities.
It’s important to have core stability and core fitness because many of us are very sedentary throughout the day, and those muscles have a tendency to relax when you’re sitting a lot. If you don’t have that underlying stability and fitness, it makes it that much more difficult to be active and do things like go to the gym or out for a run, or even come home and take care of your household, pick up your child, etc. Every single time you move your arms or legs, you need to be able to move them on a stable base. So if your base isn’t stable, it makes you use more energy and puts more dysfunction through your body. The stronger your base is, the easier it’s going to be to do everything else.
Core stability is important throughout your life. When you’re a young adult and spending 8-12 hours a day at your desk at work, having a stable core is what allows you to then get up and go do all the active things you want to do. As we age, we often have a decrease in overall balance and daily activity, and having a strong core is linked to better reaction times when it comes to instability and balance issues. Having a strong core helps to keep your back healthy too!
One of the most important things that people need to know is that every single time you maintain good posture, you’re working on core stability. So improving your core stability can be one of the easiest things you do throughout the day. Just watching your posture when sitting, standing, walking, bending, and lifting, if done with good posture, will use your core. In a sense you could be working out all day!
There are also a lot of different exercises you could do for your core, and usually they’re not the traditional abdominal crunch type movements you might be used to seeing. Practicing Pilates and yoga can be beneficial because they tend to emphasize posture and really utilize the core as the basis of their exercise progression. Since the best core exercises are different from the traditional abdominal workouts that most people know, it may be worth your time to see a qualified specialist such as a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, or Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who can teach you how to engage your core and to make sure that you’re using the right muscles (and using them properly). You can also check the schedule at your gym for classes that are specifically for strengthening the core.
Anna Ribaudo is a doctor of physical therapy at the Integrative Care Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She completed her doctorate degrees at New York Institute of Technology in 2003 and has completed an orthopedic residency at Hospital for Special Surgery.