Core strength demystified
Posted on 15 November 2016
Optimal human movement is dependent on a well-functioning and strong core, an ideal which is often misunderstood. A biokineticist explains core strength and stability – and how to achieve it.
The latest reseach on the core
‘The core is a complex series of muscles extending far beyond the abdominals,’ says Durbanville-based biokineticist Pea Blaauw. ‘It includes the whole torso and is used in almost every movement of the body.’
Much of the core’s key muscles are located deep below the exterior surface of the torso, and include the diaphragm, transverse abdominals and pelvic floor.
‘While optimal movement and balance is generally attributed to the muscles, recent evidence suggests that the relationship between the muscular, nervous and fascial systems is vital in achieving the ideal of a strong core,’ Pea explains. ‘Some of the core muscles also have up to three times as many proprioceptive receptors – receptors that provide information about the body’s position, motion and equilibrium – as other muscle groups.’
Dangers of a weak core
‘Compensatory movements that could lead to injury are more likely if the core is weak,’ says Pea. ‘Think of a cannon being fired from a small boat – the surface is unstable so it negatively affects the shot.’
He lists the following key pointers of a weak core:
- Weak stomach muscles
- Poor posture
- Poor balance
- Lower back pain
- Increased aches and pains in general
Difference between stomach muscles and core
While good posture is linked to a strong core, Pea cautions against the popular notion of a ‘bulletproof’ six-pack. ‘It’s a misconception to assume strong abdominals equate to a strong core,’ he says. ‘In fact, if a person’s stomach muscles are too strong, the resulting imbalance can manifest itself as lower back pain.’
Core strength routine
Pea recommends the classic plank as one of the best exercises to achieve overall core strength.
‘Front and side planks are a good combination,’ he says. ‘Beginners should aim to hold each pose for around 10 seconds and repeat 2 to 5 times every second day. Depending upon progress and individual ability, the poses can be held for longer periods of time.
‘Good form is essential for these exercises to work, as well as to prevent injury,’ he adds. ‘For instance, if the back starts to over-arch during a front plank, the exercise should be stopped immediately. Maintaining a neutral spine is critical for achieving proper form.’
Deep breathing is also a highly effective way to strengthen the core, says Pea. ‘Exhaling after a deep breath and pulling one’s navel towards the spine has amazing benefits. This is an ideal exercise to do any time – even during other natural activities such as walking.’