By Helene Mitchell, Physical Therapist Assistant
Core stabilization, or core strengthening has been around for many years and has been incorporated into sports performance training programs, exercise programs such as Yoga, Pilates and Boot Camps. In Physical Therapy and rehabilitation, core stabilization means that activation of the trunk muscles must occur first in order for us to create a stable base of support that allows us to move our arms and legs. Making the trunk muscles stronger keeps the spine stable and helps the body stay balanced with movement; preventing falls and injury.
Most people think of the “core” as just being the abdominals (stomach muscles) when in fact the “core” muscles run the entire length of the torso from the hips to the shoulders. When these muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support. This allows us to stand upright and move on two feet, shift our weight and move in any direction. This distribution of weight protects the back from injury. An effective core conditioning program needs to target all muscles of the core to be effective.
Benefits of Good Core Strength:
A strong core:
• Reduces Back Pain and Prevents Injury
• Improves Athletic Performance
• Improves Postural Imbalances
Exercises that Build Core Strength:
The most effective core strengthening exercises work the torso as a solid unit with both front and back muscles contracting at the same time. The most basic core strengthening exercise is Abdominal Bracing where you try to pull your navel in toward your spine without holding your breath. Most core strengthening exercises don’t require equipment and include:
• Planks: Position yourself face down on hands and balls of feet. Straighten arms. Tighten stomach muscles and lift hips to form a straight line from head to toe. Hold 15-30 seconds. Do not let hips sag to the floor.
• Basic Push Up: Position yourself face down with hands under shoulders and on balls of feet. Tighten stomach muscles and bend elbows to lower chest towards the ground. Keep neck in neutral by gazing towards floor. Straighten elbows to complete one repetition. Do not let hips sag to the floor.
• Bridging: Lay face up on flat surface, knees bent and arms by sides. Slowly raise buttocks and hips, keeping stomach tight. Slowly lower hips again. This completes one repetition.
• Supermans: Lay face down on flat surface with arms stretched overhead and straight legs. Tighten stomach muscles and simultaneously lift arms and legs into the air a few inches then slowly lower them.
Other exercises include the use of stability balls, medicine balls, kettlebells, wobble boards, yoga and pilates. These particular exercises should only be performed under the supervision of a trained professional and when beginning any type of exercise program, always consult your physician first.