The Core Series
This post will start off our series on the core. This is a buzzword that you hear often but do you really know it's meaning? Most people think of the core as strictly the abdominal muscles, but the core is made up of additional muscles in the hip and back. This blog series will break up the core into three parts of the trunk: front, sides, and back, and show you how to strengthen and stretch each part. Stay tuned each week for the other two blogs.
So what is the purpose of our core? The main function is to stabilize your trunk while your arms and legs move. It transfers force from the lower body to the upper body and vice versa which allows us to move effectively. The second function is to spare the spine from excess loading (2018). This means that the stronger your core muscles are the more protection your spinal joints have. This is important because joints naturally break down with aging and excess use. Keeping your core strong can extend the life of your back - keeping it healthy for a longer period of time.
Let's start with the part of the "core" that most people think of first - your abdominals and front of the hip. There are many layers of abdominal muscles, each responsible for a different task. Your transverse abdominis is the deepest core muscle located closest to your organs. This muscle allows for bending at the waist and rotation of the trunk. They also are responsible for keeping pressure on your organs and important bodily functions including labor, coughing, bladder/bowel support, and vomiting (2017). Your rectus abdominis is the muscle that is generally referred to as the six pack. It is responsible for bending your trunk forward and stabilizes and controls the tilt of your pelvis.
One of best core exercises that can be done by anyone and is a great foundation to further core strengthening is called pelvic tilting. Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat, rock your pelvis forward and backwards until you find the position where your two hip bones and pubis are in the same plane. Keeping all three points level, inhale through your nose and slowly exhale forcefully through the mouth drawing the belly button towards the spine. Keep the core contracted as you take another inhale through the nose and use the exhale to draw your belly button even further down towards your spine. Continue to do this for five breathes.
Building off the pelvic tilting exercise, the next exercise that you can try is called the dead bug. This exercise requires you to keep your torso stable while moving your arms and legs. Start on your back, knees bent, feet flat. Tighten your core doing the pelvic tilting exercise that you practiced above. Now reach your arms up to the ceiling and lift your legs up as if your seated in a chair. Alternate extending the opposite leg and opposite arm slowly while keeping your back flat on the table. The goal is to keep your torso completely still with your back flat on the table while your arms and legs move.
Dead bug- Correct form
Dead bug- Bad Form
Your hip flexors are also a group of muscles in this region that are included in the "core". They help bring your thigh towards your chest or your chest towards your thigh. This is important because depending on the type of abdominal exercises you do, some may only be targeting your hip flexors instead of your abdominals (Think of the sit up!). An important stretch to do for prevention of low back pain is the hip flexor stretch. When the hip flexors are too strong or tight they tug on the lower spine which can cause low back pain (2020.) These muscles have a tendency to be tight from prolonged sitting, biking, or running which could cause back pain. Below is a photo of how to perform this stretch. Try two reps with a 30 second hold each side.
Hip flexor stretch
If you currently have back pain or would like to work on strengthening your core for prevention - contact us at Dion Physical Therapy for a specialized plan of care. Email: Jennifer.Dion@dionpt.com or Phone 774-955-5830. Stay tuned for the rest of the three part series on the core to come.
Abdominal Muscles: Transverse Abdominis Function. (2017, December 29). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://corewalking.com/abdominal-muscles-transverse-abdominis-function/
Core Stability: What Is It and Why Is It Important. (2018, July 5). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/700childrens/2018/07/core-stability#:~:text=The%20core%20muscles%20have%20two,to%20perform%20at%20our%20best.
Rectus abdominis muscle. (2020, September 27). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rectus_abdominis_muscle
Harvard Health Publishing (n.d.). Want a stronger core? Skip the sit-ups. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/want-a-stronger-core-skip-the-sit-ups