Thursday, September 10, 2009

What’s All This Talk About My Core?

You may have read an article or heard people talk about the importance of exercising your core. That sounds like something we should be concerned with, but what does that really mean? What is your core? How do you want to exercise it?
To truly understand how to exercise your core, it helps to know what your core is and what it does for you. Your core is fundamentally your torso or trunk. This basically means your spine and ribs, as well as the major joints attached to them—your hips and shoulders. Your core’s primary function in exercise is to safely transfer force from your feet to your hands and vice versa. Forces acting upon your body travel through your arms and legs and into your core. Your core is also from where your body produces force through your arms and legs. Your core is also your center of gravity and plays a significant role in your posture and balance.

What does this mean for exercise? Aside from “targeting” the core with abdominal and back exercises, you actually train your core whenever you do “full-body” and “body-weight” exercises. This includes exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups. Even lifting free-weights while kneeling or standing trains your core. Because exercises like these train your core’s role in arm and leg movements, they are the best exercises to improve your arm and leg strength. You also use your core extensively with common aerobic activities as well. Imagine how your core controls the rotation through your body as your arms and legs swing when you run. Or consider the way your core alignment affects your stroke and kick when you swim.

Your core is also essential for preventing injury while imposing the stresses of exercise and activity on your body. This is where things get complicated fast, because your core’s function involves the coordinated actions of scores of different muscles. Physical therapy research shows that imbalances of these coordinated muscle actions lead to poorly aligned joint movements, which in turn can lead to wear and tear in the joints. Poorly balanced movements in your core can injure not only your back, hips and shoulders, but also your knees, neck, elbows, hands and feet. The core is also implicated in many cases of soft-tissue injury like hamstring tears.

If you experience pain or discomfort while doing common exercises like squats and push-ups, you core’s function may be an issue. If this is the case for you, it’s best to get the problem evaluated by a medical professional or physical therapist before exercising. Not all core exercises are appropriate for all kinds of core-related injuries. As you can see already, the core’s function involves an incredibly diverse number of movements. What this means is that abdominal crunches, for example, are only one of many exercises for your core. In fact, doing too much of one exercise for your core can throw its function out of balance. This is what lies behind many, if not most, non-contact related injuries. Since a great many orthopedic injuries have their root cause in poor core function, often these problems don’t seem to resolve without addressing the core.

By Eric Pranzerone, Personal Fitness Trainer - Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

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