We all do! People always talk about core strength, but why is it so important? Core strength relates to the region of the body bounded by the abdominal wall, the pelvis, the lower back and the diaphragm, and its ability to stabilize the body during movement. The main muscles involved include the transversus abdominis , rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, the multifidi, pelvic floor, and the diaphragm. Our deep core acts as a natural corset to support our spine, which provides a strong foundation to perform functional and higher level activities. A strong core makes our everyday activities more efficient, improves balance, and can prevent injuries such as hip and low back pain. A weak core can create decreased support, which can cause stress and injury to other body parts. A program that addresses core strength can improve posture, reduce/prevent pain, and remind important muscle groups to do their job. Core strengthening isn’t just about targeting the front side of your body to achieve a six-pack, but involves your gluteal muscles and the muscles that make up your back as well.
Below are some basic examples of how to strengthen your core. It’s important to note that every individual is different and some may need to modify exercises based on their level of comfort. Always consult with your physician or physical therapist before starting a new form of exercise.
1) Transversus abdominus (TA) contraction: This is the deep abdominal muscle that acts as our body’s natural corset. It is a deep muscle that provides stability to our spine. The concept of this exercise is necessary for the exercises that follow.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Pull your belly button in and up towards your spine, while breathing out. At the same time, activate your pelvic floor by performing a Kegel exercise. You can use your index and middle finger to feel for the contraction. Hold for about 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
2) Plank on forearms: Great for shoulder stability/strength, core, and lower body strength
Lie face down on the floor resting on your forearms. Place your elbows directly under your shoulders and forearms with your hands grasped together. Push off the floor raising up on your toes and resting on your elbows. Push through your elbows to keep your shoulder blades from winging (protruding from your back). Draw your belly button in toward your spine (TA contraction), tighten your buttock muscles, and draw your heels back. Keep your back flat in a straight line from head to heels and try not to let your back sag or your buttocks come up in the air. Beginners should hold this position for 15 seconds, more advanced exercisers can hold for 30 seconds and work their way up to 60 seconds. Lower your body and rest, repeat 3-5 times.
3) Quadruped alternating arm and leg: This exercise works on your transverse abdominis and your low back stabilizers.
Starting on your hands and knees, perform a TA contraction. While holding the contraction, lift your opposite arm and leg. Do not let your back move and keep your hips square. Hold this position for 5 seconds. Return to the starting position and alternate sides. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Erin Corbo is a doctor of physical therapy and a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Integrative Care Center.
Jocelyn Mastropolo is a doctor of physical therapy at the Hospital for Special Surgery Integrative Care Center.