Not only is core strength crucial to trunk movements, but the force it generates also ripples upward and downward to adjoining links within the chain of your limbs, so to speak.
This is how weak or inflexible core muscles can impair arm and leg function, putting our joints in susceptible positions or draining power from athletic movements. Mundane daily activities and advanced athletic activities both rely on your core – a fact that most individuals might not appreciate until it’s too late and an injury has occurred.
For all populations, a strong and flexible core is critical to almost everything you do. Some examples:
• Everyday acts - bending to put on shoes, bathing, dressing, any work around the house such as cleaning and gardening that involve lifting, twisting, carrying, reaching overhead or simply standing still all originate in – or pass through – the core.
• On-the-job tasks - jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles(5). Even less obvious tasks like phone calls, typing, computer use and sitting at your desk for hours predispose us to poor posture and overuse injuries when our core is slacking off.
• A healthy back - when core muscles lack strength and endurance, poor posture can increase wear and tear on the spine leading to degeneration and herniated discs(4). Lower back pain affects four out of five people at some point in their lives but most cases can be prevented and treated by doing exercises that promotes core strength and endurance(2). Chiropractors and physiotherapists alike are quick to prescribe a regiment of core exercises to their patients with back pain.
• Sports and other recreational activities - Golfing, running, swimming, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, tennis, biking, rowing… there are very few sports and recreational activities that aren’t powered by a strong core. In fact, many sport injuries are a direct result of a weak core (1). When the core is not able to transfer or absorb the speed and power in full body athletic movements, stress is then absorbed by joints and structures not made to handle those loads by themselves.
• Balance and stability - your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction or stand in one spot without losing your balance, decreasing your risk of falling. In fact studies have found that core strength training can be used as an adjunct or even alternative to traditional balance and/or resistance training in elderly populations(3).
A balanced core is needed to engage muscles effectively. Likewise a balanced core can only be developed when surrounding muscles are conditioned and able to support the core.
Free-weight resistance training, such as working with a kettlebell, engages the core more effectively than when working with machines.
While it’s important to build a strong core, developing rippling abs shouldn’t be your primary goal. Over training abdominal muscles while neglecting muscles of the back, shoulders and hips can predispose you to injuries and limit athletic performance. True “core” conditioning comes from addressing trunk stability and mobility from the front, side and back of the trunk along with the hips and shoulders. However, if your goal does happen to be washboard abs alone, it’s essential to trim body fat through diet and aerobic exercise on top of build strong abdominal muscles through frequent core exercise sessions.
1. Donaldson A1, Cook J, Gabbe B, Lloyd DG, Young W, Finch CF. Bridging the Gap Between Content and Context: Establishing Expert Consensus on the Content of an Exercise Training Program to Prevent Lower-Limb Injuries. Clin J Sport Med. 2014 Jul 9.
2. Furlan, Andrea D et al. Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Back Pain II Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments, No. 194 University of Ottawa Evidence-based Practice Center Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2010 Oct. Report No.: 10(11)-E007
3. Granacher U1, Gollhofer A, Hortobágyi T, Kressig RW, Muehlbauer T. The importance of trunk muscle strength for balance, functional performance, and fall prevention in seniors: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2013 Jul;43(7):627-41. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0041-1.
4. Keorochana G, Taghavi CE, Lee KB, Yoo JH, Liao JC, Fei Z, Wang JC. Effect of sagittal alignment on kinematic changes and degree of disc degeneration in the lumbar spine: an analysis using positional MRI. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2011 May 15;36(11):893-8. doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181f4d212.
5. Mayer JM, Quillen WS, Verna JL, Chen R, Lunseth P, Dagenais S. Impact of a Supervised Worksite Exercise Program on Back and Core Muscular Endurance in Firefighters. Am J Health Promot. 2014 Feb 13.
Poul Nielsen is the owner and operator of Nielsen Fitness, Toronto's leading team of in-home personal trainers. He has 18 years' experience in the fitness industry and has taught courses in Fitness and Lifestyle Management at George Brown College.
In addition to exercise (obviously), he loves spending time with his family, playing the guitar, strong coffee - and dark chocolate!