SPECIAL TO THE MIRROR
Whether you are just getting started on an exercise program, or a seasoned veteran of a fitness regime, centering your routine on your core is imperative to improved performance and longevity.
In general terms, the core is defined as being central to the existence of something, so why wouldn’t we put the most emphasis on the core musculature of our body? It literally dictates our physical potential for functional movement, strength, and athleticism.
The core can also be the root cause of general low-back pain, musculoskeletal imbalance (poor posture), movement dysfunction (coordination), and even certain injuries throughout the entire body.
To better understand the vital role of the core muscular system, it is helpful to first objectively see the body as a protective organism designed to prolong its survival. This means that certain aspects of the human anatomy and physiology are designed to protect its most vital parts to sustain its existence. Most of the functioning parts are also multi-tasking, in a checks-and-balances sort of way, to constantly maintain equilibrium so that we can function efficiently.
Like a well-designed fortress, this complex and integrated system even has parts to protect the parts designed for protection. In the simplest of examples, the skeletal system consists of the rib cage to protect the heart and lungs, the skull for our brain, and the vertebrae and pelvis for our spinal cord.
In regard to our muscular system, the core serves its most valuable protective role through stabilizing the spine and pelvis, and therefore the spinal cord. The brain and the spinal cord make up the central nervous system, without which we could not exist.
“Our nervous system will only allow our larger muscles to activate to the degree that the associated joints are stable and dynamic equilibrium is maintained.” said V.R. Edgerton, a neurological scientist, in “Medical Science Sports Exercise” (1996). Hence the statement “you are only as strong as your weakest link” being that your core serves as the foundation for movement.
At the base level of core function, it serves as an anticipatory muscle to all movement. Therefore, before we move any body part, it engages reflexively in way that provides an internal bracing around our midsection. This greatly contributes to the stability of the vertebrae and pelvis by giving them a “hug” relative to the potential internal and external forces to protect the spinal cord. There is an optimal relativity of forces that the nervous system seeks in order to feel safe enough to be able to handle the loads, and “fire on all cylinders” for maximum output.
When the spinal cord feels safe, it allows the body to go at full throttle if so desired. Building a strong core leads to higher levels of safety and security for the spinal cord, and therefore higher output capacity for the body.
On the other hand, if our core is dysfunctional or weak, the spinal cord does not feel as safe, and it shuts down the body’s capabilities to the degree of instability. Unless proactive steps are taken to correct the dysfunction at the core, the common outcome is a domino affect of compensations in the body, ultimately leading to breakdown, and potential injury.
The core is composed of two main functioning systems, local and global musculatures. The local musculatures are the most internal, and act unconsciously to stabilize. They include the diaphragm, transverse abdominus, multifidus, and pelvic floor.
The global musculatures act more in creating larger movements in the torso and hips. They include the external oblique, internal oblique, and rectus abdominus.
To achieve a highly functioning core, follow a progression that builds upon the stability and mobility of the hips, low back, and shoulder girdle in multiple planes of movement.
Here is a sample of a progression for an individual starting in healthy condition:
1. Establish a solid kinesthetic awareness as to the optimal body posture/alignment/positioning from which to strengthen the core through basic stabilization exercises. (Strengthening the core with improper posture will only reinforce or create dysfunction and weakness.)
• Face up bridge (plank)
• Face down bridge (plank)
• Side bridge (plank)
• Isometric half squat
2. Incorporate basic “Dynamic Stabilization” exercises, which integrate mobility of the limbs while maintaining proper body alignment /posture.
• Any Level-One exercise while moving limbs in sync or out sink with each other. Light resistance can be applied manually, or through weights, resistance bands, cables, etc.
• Bird-dog exercise
3. Improve strength that results from dynamic movement of the trunk and extremities involving selected groups of muscles.
• Forward/Side Crunches
• Trunk Rotations
• Dead lifts
4. Increase power and explosiveness to further challenge the core through plyometric movement.
• Medicine ball throws
• Explosive push-ups
• Kettle Bell swings
As long as you are in good health, realistically you can spend two to four weeks of progression on each area. Once you’ve completed all four phases, then it will be important to revisit some variation of each at least once per week for maintenance. If you are involved in an activity that demands more improvement from one of those areas, then you can always add an extra session per week.
The most beneficial way to learn how to train your core is to work with a professional and get “hands on” training. Having an experienced eye to observe your form to make adjustments where needed, is vital to reinforcing proper posture and movement strategies for good health and optimal functional performance.
Making a commitment to improving your core strength is guaranteed to make a positive difference in the quality of your life by allowing you to be better at the physical activities that you love to do, and with less risk of injury.
Adam Friedman, CSCS, CN, CMT is a Kinesiologist, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Certified Nutritionist, and Certified Massage Technician. He is the founder of Advanced Athletics, Inc. located right next door to the world famous Gold’s Gym in Venice, on the corner of Sunset Ave, and Hampton Drive, one block east of Main Street. To schedule a complimentary assessment please call 310.396.2100 or email Adam at [email protected] Otherwise, to learn more, visit www.advancedathletics.com.