The benefits of a strong core – and the exercises to get your own
With more and more of us confined to jobs in-front of computers all day, and studies that say “Sitting is the new smoking”, taking the time to focus on our core (the powerhouse of muscles around our middle) is more important than ever to help us exercise with ease. Our core is at the heart of good posture and balance, and if you regularly battle lower back pain – it could be because your deep core muscles aren’t firing like they should. Read on to explore which muscles comprise the core, what they’re good for, and how to build up your own.
Our core is more than just ‘six pack’ muscles, in fact it can be broken down into four separate muscle groups. Some muscles in the body are known as ‘prime movers’ – they are there to generate large forces throughout powerful exercise movements. It may surprise you to know that the deep core muscles don’t fit in this category! We instead want the core muscles to be stabilisers; responsive to demands placed on the body, and able to assist the prime movers to do their job.
One of the most commonly researched benefits of having a strong set of core muscles is less lower back pain. People also experience better posture and increased arm and leg strength when the core muscles are activated correctly. Life feels a little easier when the central muscles are playing their part. So how can we get them firing at their best?
- Practice Activation
This can be done anywhere, anytime; but should especially be completed during your workout! Start by sitting up nice and tall. To best get feedback on your core muscles, place your hands on the bony parts of your hips, with your fingertips just on the inside (in the direction of your navel).
Draw up your pelvic floor slightly, as if you were holding on to go to the bathroom, and gently pull your belly button towards your spine. You should feel a light tension under the fingers, indicating that the muscles around the spine are engaged.
Try to breathe in and out whilst holding this muscle contraction, building up to 5 full breaths.
- Add Stability
Traditional core exercises such as the plank can be modified by doing them on the a_space Multi Bench, placing the elbows on the surface and keeping the body in a nice straight line. This is the perfect time to test out your core activation, ensuring that you can breathe at the same time.
Because the core connects the lower and upper body at the centre, you could also use equipment such as the Shoulder Mobility Station and Body Twist while focusing on the abdominals. The aim is to complete slow and controlled movements, breathing fully and engaging the core muscles.
- Build Strength
Now that the core has been prepared, we can apply the muscles to some bigger movement tasks. Check out equipment such as the Sit Up Bench and Leg Raises to see how the small muscles can assist the big ones, keeping the spine aligned and moving with ease.
You can also recruit your abdominal muscles during other whole body movements such as Body Pulls and Push Ups, Leg Press and Chest Press… try this next time you feel fatigued and see if you get a boost!
Just like anything in the body, if you don’t use it, you lose it – and this is very true for the core muscles. Start small and build up gradually to prevent injury – this article helps to explain the different layers of push-up if you want to start small.
Remember that if you are new to working out or have a medical condition which could be impacted by exercise, consult with your doctor before commencing any physical activity program.