The core: Foundation of movement

When it comes to functional fitness, having a strong core is key. Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles. It also includes the muscles in your back and the ones supporting your hips/pelvis (for example, your glutes and hip flexors). The primary function of your core is to provide stability for your spine and around the hips, no matter the task being performed. This stability then allows you to safely receive or transfer force using your legs and arms, with a solid foundation to push off of.

When do you use your core?

Your core is involved in everything you do, all day long. For example, when you go for a walk, perhaps without even realizing it, you engage your core in order to provide balance and stability to the upper half of your body. You also use your core when you go from standing up to a seated position (and vice versa). Just imagine what might happen if you completely relaxed your core muscles while trying to do either of these tasks. You would probably just fall to the ground. Since your core muscles are used in so many of the tasks you perform regularly, it’s important to keep them strong.

What are the benefits of strengthening your core?

By consistently working on strengthening your core muscles, you can become better at everyday tasks (posture, sitting, walking, etc.) as well as performance-related tasks (running, jumping, lifting, carrying, etc.). Most important, however, a strong core can help prevent injuries in your low back and hip regions. Low-back pain is one of the leading causes for premature discharge from the military and is estimated to affect 85% of the overall U.S. population at some point in life. Therefore, knowing how to safely and effectively strengthen your core is vital to prevent injuries and improve performance.

How do you train your core?

The act of stabilizing your core during everyday activities (walking, standing, and sitting) helps strengthen these muscles naturally but indirectly. However, it’s important to specifically focus on strengthening the different areas within your core evenly to prevent muscle imbalances. Even if your main goal is a ripped six-pack, one of the most common muscle imbalances occurs if you focus too much on just strengthening your abdominal muscles. Over time this pulls your ribcage downward and can result in excess curvature in your back, making you more prone to unnecessary pain and injuries. Some of the best functional strategies to strengthen your core and help prevent these muscle imbalances include: Functional Fitness Training, Vertical Core Training, and mind/body classes, such as yoga, that focus on core strength and balance. Not only do these exercise routines help you strengthen your core, but they also teach you how to stabilize your spine and hips properly throughout movement, which helps prevent injuries.

A future article on “functional fitness” will provide an overview of the basic movements (deadlifts, squats, pushing, pulling, etc.) associated with this style of exercise. Remember the importance of core strength, since you need the stability provided by these muscles in order to perform functional fitness movements safely, effectively, and efficiently.


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References

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Hibbs, A. E., Thompson, K. G., French, D., Wrigley, A., & Spears, I. (2008). Optimizing performance by improving core stability and core strength. Sports Medicine, 38(12), 995–1008. doi:10.2165/00007256-200838120-00004

Knox, J., Orchowski, J., Scher, D. L., Owens, B. D., Burks, R., & Belmont, P. J. (2011). The incidence of low back pain in active duty United States military Service Members. Spine, 36(18), 1492–1500. doi:10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181f40ddd

Pai, S., & Sundaram, L. J. (2004). Low back pain: An economic assessment in the United States. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 35(1), 1–5. doi:10.1016/s0030-5898(03)00101-9

Sellentin, R., & Jones, R. (2012). The effect of core and lower limb exercises on trunk strength and lower limb stability on Australian soldiers. Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health, 20(4), 21–35.