Core Training Basics

Core training is one of the “hottest” topics to hit the field of strength training and general fitness in the last few years. It seems you can’t read any fitness magazine or go to any related website without reading something about core training and conditioning.

Many people still have a misconception of what the core training. I don’t think I need to get into all the muscles that make up the core. You can get that information from many sources. It really isn’t that important. If you are doing a research paper then you will need to know, if you just want to make it stronger then what I will tell you will more than suffice.

The “core” is considered the muscles that make up the mid trunk. That does not mean that the “core” is only made up of the abdominal muscles. The “core” includes the muscles of the low back. Think of it as a band around your trunk. I would also include the muscles attached to the hips as well since they are also responsible for movement and contribute to posture to a degree.

There are many reasons that a strong core is important. Anyone that has ever hurt his back can tell you that a strong core is essential to back health. In fact, when we did rehab for mechanical low back dysfunction we always addressed the core musculature as part of treatment.

I view the “core” as a connection, or a bridge, between the upper and lower extremities. If the core is weak the bridge will collapse and the extremities will, in turn, be weak. The core, when it is strong and stable, allows the body to function as an integrated unit. When it is weak the body becomes a “house of cards” waiting to crumble in the wind.

So what can core training do for you? A strong core will enhance balance and stability. This is related to the reasons I gave earlier. Imagine trying to maintain your balance if the middle of your body, the part that helps your legs hold you up against gravity, where weak and feeble. Now imagine trying to move quickly and change directions if you had a big weak gut. That’s why athletes that require agility in their sport have strong midsections and lower backs.

A strong core will improve your posture. Look around at people that slouch or slump. They probably have not exercised much in their life. Add some strength to their low back and their abdominal region and I bet you they stand up better, and stay that way longer without fatigue.

A strong core will improve functional movement, which is important to athletes, as well as anyone that needs to walk, bend, turn and lift things during their day. Hmmm, that sounds like just about everyone I know.

A strong core can prevent back pain. It’s funny but most people think that back pain is caused by a weak back. In most cases weak abdominal muscles cause low back pain (Pain caused by trauma or pathology is different). Think of the abdominal muscles as a belt that holds in your organs. If it is weak then your organs can spill out. Now that can’t be very good for you. A strong core supports the body more effectively, that allows you to do the things you need to do with less fatigue. Your abdominal and low back muscles will do their job.

A strong core can also help you lift heavier loads. Whether you are lifting weights, shoveling the driveway or packing heavy boxes, if you have a weak core you are an accident waiting to happen. Take the time to strengthen your core and you will be a happier person. You will probably look better too.

When lifting heavy loads a very important technique to use is “bracing”. Imagine you were going to be punched in the stomach. Instinctively you would contract your abdominal muscles by pushing them out and down. That creates a wall of muscle and will have the effect of connecting your entire body, like a pillar of rock. The next time you lift a heavy weight try it, you will feel and be stronger. Lift the same weight without that technique and you may need a doctor.

There is also some controversy regarding core strength vs. core stability. Proper core training will address both. I see it this way: Core strength is the trunks ability to move or support a load of some kind. Core stability is the cores ability to stay strong and relatively unyielding while the extremities are moving around it, whether they are lifting weights or not. Imagine swinging a baseball bat with a weak, unstable core. Do that to often and you will wind up in some kind of discomfort and probably won’t hit the ball very far anyway.

So how do you strengthen the core? Well I can tell you that just doing a few crunches is not core training. Effective core training takes an integrated approach. It is not merely about working the muscles in isolation but moving the body as a unit. This involves moving in different planes (front and back, side to side, and rotating). Core training involves changing “levels”, like reaching down to the ground to pick something up. It also includes lifting things off the floor and balancing on an unstable surface from time to time.

Exercises include, but are not limited to, deadlifts, lunges, bridges, planks etc. along with variations of the above.

Core training is heavily connected to “functional training”. They really can’t be totally separated. If you train functionally you will develop a strong, stable and efficient core. If you continue to isolate you are depriving yourself of the true and complete benefits of core training.

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