We’ve all read them. Read several, and probably glanced over or passed by dozens more. But, did we really get any answers from a single article or post that weren’t contradicted by the preceding or following read? I, for one, have had a very tough time finding a thorough, comprehensive, useful and ACCURATE article that explains to readers what the “core” really is, why it’s important, and how to properly and safely train the “core”. So, since I couldn’t find an article to pass people on to for further information, I’ve decided to write my own.
What Is The “Core?”
Quite simply, the core is nothing that’s been formally defined. This is why there is so much discrepancy and ambiguity about what it is and what it does. So what’s my definition of the core?
“The muscles involved in stabilizing and controlling the small movements of the axial skeleton (cranium, spine, sacrum), to provide a strong foundation for the appendicular skeleton (pelvis & legs, shoulder girdle & arms) to attach to and create movement from.”
Now, this may sound long and complicated at first, but let’s break it down and take a closer look. What we’re really talking about here is a set of muscles that act together to hold the spine, the pelvis, and even the shoulder girdle in place as stabilizers, which allows the arms and legs to produce large forces and then apply these forces externally. So, the core muscles become a basis for the body to start from to produce force and apply it. Starting to see the connection of why the core is so important?
Many of these muscles involved are intrinsic slow twitch muscles that are (or should be) working almost all the time to maintain proper posture and spinal integrity. The core also includes the larger extrinsic abdominals and oblique muscles (often listed alone as the ‘core’), along with a number of larger back muscles. So now that we know what the core is and what it’s basic function is, let’s move on to some of the effects of a weak or dysfunctional core.
Structure & Function
(Special thanks to AnatomicalPrints.com for graciously providing these images for our use. Check out their website for some great anatomy posters!)
Why A Weak Core Sucks
With such a vast majority of our population feeling the effects of low back pain, whether it be chronic, intermittent or isolated episodes, it’s might seem obvious that many of these individuals are doing (or not doing) somewhat similar things that are putting them in a situation which allows for back issues. In my experience, after getting rid of the cases of congenital issues and eliminating acute and/or chronic trauma-related conditions, one of the main culprits of back pain is a weak core and poor posture. From countless hours of sitting, the core becomes relaxed and the hip flexors (among others) slowly shorten, a combination of which leads to a forward pelvic tilt, and this leads to a multitude of postural issues, including low back pain.
With a weak core, you are more susceptible to injuring the spine when trying to move heavy weights, especially during major lower body workouts like squats, deadlifts, and RDL’s. Without a stable core to work off of, the powerful leg muscles pull on the destabilized (or loose) pelvis, putting stress on the structures attaching the pelvis to the spine. This in turn puts stress on the spine, which can lead to bulging and herniated discs, spinal misalignment, and sprain/strain injuries – none of which you necessarily want to deal with. Even the less severe consequences of a weak core and weak abdominal muscles aren’t great things to have to deal with. These include things like excessive lordosis, lower crossed syndrome, upper crossed syndrome, forward head posture, kyphosis, and more. Often, these less serious issues produce significant negative sequelae and end up becoming major conditions further down the road.
So, Can A Strong Core Prevent This?
Now here’s the real kicker: many of the issues that arise from poor posture and weak core muscles are COMPLETELY preventable and/or treatable. Optimal functioning of the core muscles and involved structures, like anything else in the body, requires a few things; proper body mechanics, good nutrition and hydration (general for all tissues in the body actually), and specific training techniques or movements (like regular exercise and an active lifestyle). Those with more pathologic conditions related to postural alignment and core instability generally require more structured exercise and training of the core. They also commonly require physical medicine treatment techniques like MES, myofascial work, massage, acupuncture/needling, and potentially others to correct whatever the culprit may be. In most cases though, general physical activity and exercise can do wonders for maintaining an optimally functioning core as well as good posture.
Alright well let’s wrap this up. If you would like to learn more about the core muscles and the surrounding/related structures, a good anatomy book is a great place to start – this is simple structural information that can always help to expand your knowledge of the human body. Until then, I hope this was helpful and enjoyable, and stay tuned for an upcoming part II: How To Safely & Effectively Train Your Core!