The importance of core strength

Side Plank core strength

When thinking about what to write on the blog this week for rehab I thought where better to start that at the core. Core or abdominal strength is key to everything we do; there is no movement in the body that won’t involve your core to some degree. Forget about the media for a second and all the gym adverts that will no doubt have someone with a chiselled 6 pack in the centre of the image cause your core is so much more important than just ascetics.  It is essential to not only sporting activity and performance but to everyday movements as well as preventing of all sort of injuries and conditions.

What is Core strength?

Core stability is the ability to maintain and control a position of movement of your trunk this includes your spine, hips and pelvis to allow optimum production, control, transference and movement throughout the area. (Baechle et al 2000) Furthermore it is considered to be pivotal for the efficiency of biomechanical function in order to generation movement but also to minimise the stresses on your joint in all types of activities and sports from running to surfing. (Kibler et al 2006) Therefore having a strong core will allow you to build optimal power no matter what sport or activity you are doing. There is no doubt that the core strength is about dynamic movement its so much more than just a sit up, it will control every direction that occurs around your pelvis.

The ‘core’ will also never act alone it is associated with a range of muscles with attachments ranging from your pectoral muscles to your quadriceps and hip rotators. To have a good core you will need co-ordination through all these muscle to get maximum efficiency, which means controlling not only short and small muscles but also larger muscles that cover a wider area. (Nichols 1994) This means that many of the muscles involved will do more than just their main movements and so when strengthening them this will be essential.

To prove how varied core strength is and its connections to difference activities here are a few examples:

Throwing: Actually the first muscle that is activated is actually the muscle in your opposite oblique and calf!

Kicking: The movement is actually coming mainly from your hip flexors than your knee.

Calf movement: It was proven you would have 26% more movement in your ankle if you have increased power in your hip muscles.

Anatomy:

The abdominal muscles are made up of 4 different muscles the transverse abnominus, internal and external oblique muscles as well as the rectus abnominus.

Transverse abdnominus: Controls the stabilisation and protection of the lower back

Rectus abdominus + Obliques: provide support to the lower back through more specific movements associated with the lower extremity.

abdominal muscles
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Abdominal muscles

Some of the associated muscles:

Diaphragm: Is considered the roof of the Abdominals and it also influences the intra-abnominal pressure.

Quadratus Lumborum: Will help to not only stabilise the spine but also the ribs as it attaches to the 12th and last rib. Therefore it is also involved in breathing mechanics as a accessory muscle to respiration.

Glutes: Stabilise the trunk when you are on one leg and help to generate and transfer movement between leg movements. You maybe surprised but it also generates half the force of throwing activities.

It is also been proven that to tighten your muscles in your spine and around your lower back you only need a minimum of 5% effort from your abdominals. If that doesn’t prove how important having a good core is prevention of lower back pain I don’t know what does! (Cholewicki et al. 1999)

Advantages

It’s no surprise that in the realm of prevention core strength in top on the list for back pain, essentially your core is your back muscles partner, in crime with a similar relationship to the bicep and triceps. If you haven’t already read it check out my complete guide for lower back pain. There is also evidence showing that having a weaker core leaves your more susceptible to picking up and reoccurring lower back pain issues. The evidence while at times contradictory does point to core stability exercises focusing on the deep trunk muscles being better than general exercise for pain relief and disability levels in lower back pain especially in the short term. (Chang et al 2012) While core strengthening is important for lower back due to the multifactorial nature of the pain, it is one of many difference aspects that should be in your rehabilitation programme. Core strength is just as important for the older generations in preventions of falls and maintaining balance. (Granacher et al 2013)

Your abdominals and core, work to create a rigid cylinder around your spine to protect it from harm, as well as allowing it to control the available movements. The advantage of your core working together with so many difference muscles means that you can not only get the strength from the larger muscles but also the precision and control from the smaller muscles. The stronger your core works the easier it will be to control your movements. The more efficient your movements and the force transference through your trunk will help you achieve your optimum in a whole range of sports and activities. Core stability and strength is significantly important to your workout whatever it maybe, maintaining a good form will ensure you are the most efficient you can be. Furthermore, having a poor form in whatever sport you do, will not only cause you to work harder to achieve your goal whatever that may be but it will also increase the risk of picking up an injury.

Rehab

The main muscles that I have focused on are the transverse abdomens, multifidus and QL muscles as they are the most central to sore stability. Contradictory to many peoples ideas you should try to limit movements that are only in one plane of movement as you want to involve as many muscle and planes of movement  as possible. Therefore a lot of the exercises I will suggest are functional, I also suggest rotating your core workout regularly and making sure they challenge your core in many different planes as possible.

Make sure when you do these exercises that you control your breathing, I know it can seem tough and often you naturally want to hold your breathe when you do abdominal work. The roof of your core is your diaphragm, which obviously is essential to breathing. It also helps to provide more stability, which in turn will also decrease the load on your spinal muscles. (Hodges 2003) If you hold your breathe you will change the pressure between your abdomen and your abdomen which will effect your form.

Exercises:

Plank:

Elbow-Plank
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To do a plank you want to balance body on your elbow, it is essential that you try and keep your back straight and all your weight on your shoulders. Make sure you keep your bum level. You ant to aim to hold this for 60 seconds. You can make the exercise more difficult by balancing on an uneven surface such a a stability ball.

 

 

Side Plank:

Side Plank core strength
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A side plank is very similar to a normal plank however you want to balance on one elbow and foot. It again is essential that you try and keep your back straight and you want to make sure that your body is in a diagonal line from your feet all the way to your shoulder. You want to aim to hold this for 30 seconds on each side.

 

 

 

Roll out:

Abdominal roll out
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For this you will need a stability ball but you can also use barbell as long as you have something that will allow you to roll, it won’t really make a difference. You again want to keep you back as straight as possible for the exercise and repeat the movement around 20 times. It’s better to take your time and not to rush the movement.

 

 

Leg raises:

Leg raise exercise
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For this exercise you want to lie on your back with your legs straight in the air. Then you simply bring your legs down slowly. Repeat this movement 20 times again remember to breathe and take your time.

 

 

 

 

V ups:

V up exercise
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For this exercise the starting position is lying flat on your back then you want to bring your torso up so your sitting up at the same time as raising your legs. You can adapt this exercise by transferring a stability ball from your hand to between you legs and then returning to the starting position before moving back up into the V position.

 

 

Stability ball pull in:

Exercise-Ball-Pull-In
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This exercise is similar to the roll out but working in the other direction by moving your knees in towards your hips. You want to maintain a plank position with your weight over your shoulders. Similar to the other exercises you should repeat this twenty times.

 

 

 

 

References:

Baechle TR, Earle RW, Wathen D. Resistance training. In: Baechle TR, Earle RW, editors. Essentials of strength training and conditioning. 2nd ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 2000: 395-425

Chang, W.-D., Lin, H.-Y., & Lai, P.-T. (2015). Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(3), 619–622. 

Cholewicki J, Juluru K, McGill SM, et al. Intra-abdominal pressure mechanism for stabilizing the lumbar spine. Journal Biomechanics- 6: 76-87 omech 1999; 32 (1): 13-7

Grancher, U, Gollhofer, A., Kressig, R.W., Muehlbaeuer, T. 2013 The importance of truck muscle strength for blanace, functional performance and fall prevention in Seniors: A systemic Review. Sports Medicine.

Hodges PW. Core stability exercise in chronic low back pain. 36. Kibler WB, Livingston BP. Closed chain rehabilitation for Orthopaedic Clinics North America 2003; 34: 245-54

Kibler, W.B., Press, J., Sciascia, A. (2006) The role of core stability in athletic function Sports Medicine 36 (3)

Nichols TR. A biomechanical perspective on spinal mechanisms of coordinated muscle activation. Acta Anatomica (Basel) 1994; 15: 1-13

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