Core strength… two words thrown around a lot but what is core strength?
It looks good and you’re almost there but real core strength runs deeper than that. Many of the muscles, which provide core strength, are hidden beneath the superficial musculature (the rectus abdominis/six pack muscles) people usually train. The deeper muscles include the transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques and pelvic floor.
So why do we need core strength and what benefits will it bring?
Improved Back Stability
When you train your core, as a by-product your lower back also gets stronger, reducing the chances of suffering back pain. This is important for everyone as we all twist, bend and use our bodies to lift things during the course of a day. For those involved in sports or those who lift weights core strength is also extremely important. A strong core will protect your back, lowering the chances of a back injury occurring during training, games etc.
Improving core strength will improve the way in which you run. The core muscles keep your torso upright when you run and this allows the pelvis, hips and lower back to work together more efficiently and effectively. Because your arms and legs are connected via the torso increasing the strength of your core will make your arms and legs stronger as a result.
As mentioned above, core exercises stabilize the lower back. With the back more stable, pain and tension are removed; this will lend the trunk to a greater range of motion and will allow you to being to improve overall flexibility.
Improved balance, coordination, posture and mind / body connection
In Pilates we refer to the muscles of the core as “The Powerhouse” and it forms the central link between your upper and lower body. It is responsible for maintaining the stability of the torso. As the core/powerhouse becomes stronger, your balance and co-ordination also will improve. A strong core will improve your posture and help to counteract the positions we commonly adopt when using our phones and computers. Pilates and the specific core strengthening exercises we do stimulate the mind as well as the body. So if you’re into sports, which require good hand-eye coordination – like football, tennis, hurling or hockey it’s worth looking into Pilates as a way to give yourself an advantage over your competition.
How do you build real core strength?
To properly strengthen the core muscles you need to begin to access and train the deeper abdominal muscles. Exercises like crunches/sit ups are not particularly effective, as they tend to work the more superficial muscles groups such as the rectus abdominis. Instead of crunches I would suggest beginning with “the hundred” a Pilates staple. There are lots of video tutorials online for how properly execute this exercise, and it can be done anywhere with no equipment required. It gets right to work on the deeper abdominal muscles so it’s a great place to start.