Strong to the core

Stiff neck? Aching lower back? What’s holding you upright if you don’t do anything to exercise your core muscles?

What is my “core”?

You rely on your body to get out of bed, to lift your children, to perform your job and to move around with ease every day.  While our limbs provide mobility and strength, it is our body’s core that provides the basis of each movement. Your core is the midsection of your body, from your shoulders to your groin – basically everything in between your arms and legs. The core includes the pelvis, abs, back and chest muscles. It is this core that offers stability, balance and flexibility.

Every movement you make originates in the core – whether you are reaching for a snack or running a marathon. If the core is not properly conditioned, it will limit your ability to move freely and will leave you open to injury. Remember, the most common sites of injury are usually the parts between your arms and legs!.

Working the muscles in your core will improve the effectiveness of movements in your limbs. Most exercise routines focus on building muscle predominantly in your limbs and superficial muscles. By creating a stable strong base, you can optimize the strength and flexibility of each limb.

How do I strengthen my core?

As a physio, I have treated many patients whose main reason for injury was poor strength and lack of flexibility in their torso. The Pilates method of training targets the deep postural muscles of the abdomen and spine to improve overall central core stability and posture. This system of exercise strengthens the entire body from the deepest layers of muscle to the most superficial and also corrects imbalances or weaknesses.

It was devised by Joseph Pilates in the 1920’s. He believed that our modern life-style, bad posture, and inefficient breathing were the roots of poor health and ultimately devised a series of exercises that could be performed on the floor (mat pilates) or equipment based pilates.

Even if there are minimal or no weaknesses present, it gives the body a solid foundation from which to work.

For example, when I first started participating in pilates classes, I thought as a runner, my body and abs were quite strong. I quickly discovered muscles that had been untouched by traditional exercise. Obviously, pilates was able to address any strength or endurance issues in those muscle groups. After a 6 week break from running (for injury rehab) which included pilates classes only twice a week, I went back to running my usual route and couldn’t believe the faster times I was achieving in my long runs.

I soon discovered, as my core became stronger, it supported my upper body weight with ease. This freed up my legs to focus on running and propel me forward instead of supporting upper body weight AND running. In other words, this type of strength translates to any sport one plays as the body is literally able to support it’s own spinal and upper body weight more efficiently than if the core was unconditioned. I sometimes liken it to having strong arms and legs attached to an eggshell foundation or attached to a brick foundation. This is the difference core conditioning exercises can make to your overall strength.

Exercises I can do?

Many Pilates exercises are great muscle-toners that work large muscle groups beyond just the abs and lower back. The Plank position effectively works almost every muscle in the body in one move! Leg kicks work the glute and hamstring muscles very well.  Squats and lunges are the best lower-body exercises around, working the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the glutes whilst engaging the core musculature for stability. Some great core strengthening exercises can be found at these sites:

It is important to perform all movements with maximum control to ensure it is you that is managing your body and limbs and not use gravity or momentum.

As always, please consult your doctor before embarking on any new fitness program, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or have not exercised in a long time.

About Christine Kambourakis

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