Core strength is an important part of a well-rounded fit and healthy body. Aside from occasional situps and pushups, however, core exercises are often neglected. Read on to find out what your core is, why it’s important to strengthen your core and how to do this with some simple Pilates exercises.
What is the core?
Contrary to the popular belief that the core refers only to the abdominal or lower-back region of the body, essentially, the core is made up of everything but the arms and legs.
Many of the core muscles are hidden beneath the exterior musculature people typically train. The deeper muscles include the transverse abdominals, multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor and many more.
The transversus abdominis wraps around the body like a corset and when it contracts, it tightens toward the spine to support the spine and internal organs.
The multifidus is a series of muscles that are attached to the spinal column. They help to take pressure off the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be well distributed along the spine.
The diaphragm is the dome-shaped sheet of muscle and tendon that serves as the main muscle of respiration and plays a vital role in the breathing process.
The pelvic floor is attached to the pubic bone and the coccyx as well as to the side walls of your pelvis. It supports your pelvic organs – bladder, uterus and rectum and helps to close these organ’s outlets. For a comprehensive read about the pelvic floor, read our pelvic floor blog post
What is the core’s main function?
The core of the body provides a stable platform to produce efficient movement and force, and is where our centre of gravity is located.
This stability is especially important for the lower back. The core needs to be able to stabilise the lumbar spine and pelvis while the body is either stationary or moving.
The core muscles also need to be trained to be co-ordinated with the rest of the body. This is important because it means the core can contract first before moving any of the limbs. By doing this, the spine and lower back area are stabilised before any movement takes place, lessening the risk of injury. The core should be trained to anticipate movement and contract before any movement takes place.
How do I strengthen my core?
Inefficient core stability results in weakness of the pelvis and spine and can lead to the formation of compensatory patterns in the body to make up for it. Compensating when a weakness is present will increase the chances of injury as time passes.
Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability, whether you’re participating in a form of sport or just going about your daily activities.
Core training should incorporate more than just abdominal and back exercises. Some of the core muscles, especially those located closest to the spine, are primarily responsible for providing stability or preventing excessive movement that could place increased stress on our spine. Other core muscles, generally the larger and more visible muscles, are primarily responsible for generating movement. Therefore, an effective core training program should include a variety of exercises that involve stability, or little to no motion, as well as exercises that involve movements in all directions.
Exercises for core strength
A typical Pilates class will incorporate core exercises throughout the class. All exercises are executed precisely and mindfully, ensuring the muscles are being worked the right way. Here are some examples of Pilates exercises that are great for the core.
1. The Plank
The plank is an example of a stability-oriented core exercise.
2. The Single leg extension
The single leg extension is an example of a movement-oriented core exercise.
3. Stability arms
Doing arm exercises on an unstable surface really works the core.
4. The bridge
The bridge is a great core exercise that works strength and stability.
4 Advantages of training your core
1. More defined abdominal muscles
Although it takes aerobic activity to burn abdominal fat, core exercises can strengthen and tone the underlying muscles.
2. No need for a gym membership
Most core exercises don’t need any special gym equipment and can be done in the comfort of your own home.
3. Strong core muscles make it easier to do most physical activities
Strong core muscles make it easier to do everything from swinging a golf club to getting a glass from the top shelf or bending down to tie your shoes.
4. Core exercises ensure a well-rounded training program
Aerobic exercise and muscular fitness are the primary elements of most fitness programs. Adding core training to this will ensure your body is strong enough to continue training and pursuing other activities injury free.
Whether you’re taking the first steps toward fitness or you’re a committed fitness fanatic hoping to optimize your results, a well-rounded fitness program is the best way to reach your fitness goals so don’t leave core training out of your workouts!