Keeping your core fit is essential for maintaining a strong and healthy back throughout your life. Whether you want to manage a back condition, excel at a sport, or be able to move freely when you’re older, core training should be an integral part of your regular exercise program.
Unfortunately, many of the exercises traditionally used to strengthen your core, such as sit-ups and crunches, are actually harmful for many people.
Those exercises use repetitive flexion of your lumbar spine to work the rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall. Research shows however, that with most daily activities, those muscles are rarely used that way (flexing). Rather, they’re more frequently used to stabilize or brace your body. Think about it…
Simple Walking – 60% of the time that you’re walking you’re standing on one leg. Miraculously your core muscles stabilize your torso, stopping you from falling over and allowing your hips and arms to swing freely.
Throwing, Pushing Overhead or Kicking – for your arms or legs to generate any force, they need to have a strong and rigid anchor. If your limbs were connected to a unstable core, you wouldn't be able to generate force with them in an efficient way.
Carrying – your core stabilizes your body, resisting movement and allowing you to carry almost anything within your strength capacity without dropping it or falling.
Research also shows that the repetitive forward bending utilized in many sit-ups and crunches cause your spinal discs to weaken and degenerate. This is why it’s so common for someone to hurt their back by simply bending over to pick up a pair of socks or a pencil. It’s not the weight of the pencil that’s too much for their back, it’s that repetitive flexion has weakened their spine.
You’ve probably heard me say that “you get what you train for.” If you want to train your core to do what it’s intended to do, which is stabilize, then you should focus on doing core stabilization exercises. These exercises use isometric holds to co-contract the muscles of your core. This strengthens the natural stabilizing movement patterns that your body uses to move and stay strong every day.
To learn exactly what exercises are best for you, call me to set up a functional movement assessment. That’s the best way to see where your particular movement weakness may be.
There are however, several great general core stabilization exercises that most people can do. One of them is the Curl-Up.
Check out the Curl-Up exercise. It can be modified for someone who has back pain, someone who is very deconditioned or for an athlete who knows that, regardless of your sport, a strong core is essential for peak performance.