Your core strength is important at any age, because weak or inflexible core muscles can cause lower back pain and problems with balance and stability.
The everyday movements you take for granted, including walking, bending, lifting, twisting and even sitting, are dependent on these muscles. A strong core is the foundation of your body’s movements, and one of the most effective ways of maintaining mobility and long-term physical health.
What Is the Core?
Most people think of their abdominal muscles, or abs, when thinking of core strength, but several other muscles near the center of the body are included in this group.
The muscles at the lower and middle outer part of the back, called the latissimus dorsi or lats, are core muscles. So are the obliques, which run down the sides from the ribs to the upper hips. This muscle group extends down into the legs and includes the hip flexors, the gluteal muscles — or glutes — and the abductors and hamstrings in the thighs.
All of these muscles work together to keep the body aligned and supported.
Why Is Core Strength Important?
Many people’s lives have become quite sedentary today. We spend a lot of time sitting at home, in our cars and at work.
When we sit, our core muscles enter a relaxed state, ultimately leading to weakness. Developing these muscles improves back health and balance. Core strength also contributes to overall functional fitness, the fitness level that allows you to complete basic everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing and cooking.
And, of course, working this muscle group will give you a boost in strength and endurance for playing sports and other physical activities.
How to Strengthen Your Core
One simple way to begin working this muscle group is to be mindful of your posture throughout the day.
Slouching, leaning and hunching all lead to muscle weakness. Retrain your body to sit and stand correctly by taking a moment several times per day to consciously improve your posture. Try engaging the core muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine.
It can be helpful for beginners to learn core strengthening exercises from a professional trainer or by attending yoga or Pilates classes. Once you master the correct techniques, you can work on improving your strength on your own or at the gym.
Planks (front, side or modified) are particularly effective for building these muscle groups, as are crunches, abdominal presses and yoga’s bridge pose. You build strength and stability in the core most effectively with slow and sustained movements followed by periods of rest.
A wide range of exercises can benefit core strength, and equipment such as stability balls, wobble boards and medicine balls are all effective when used properly.
At Steward Health Care: Centers of Orthopedic & Sports Medicine, we want to help our patients enjoy optimal health and well-being. Our state-of-the-art orthopedic and sports medicine practice is dedicated to keeping you strong and active, and building core strength is a great way to accomplish these goals.