If you spend any time at the gym or playing sports, you’ll hear a lot of talk about the core. What’s it all about? Well, a lot!
The core is at the center of everything that we do physically. It’s the powerhouse of the limbs. It powers your golf swing, tennis and karate kick, to name a few.
Think of your core or trunk as everything in your body, minus the head and limbs. It is the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex and is made up of about 29 muscles. Just as in the foundation of a house, the core is your foundation. And just as a house needs a stable foundation or it will throw the whole frame off, the core needs to be in proper alignment to power the limbs effectively and to assist peak performance. In a holistic style of treatment, when there is a neck, shoulder or knee issue, for example, you would look at the lumbo-pelvic region.
To understand the core better, you need to know how it works. The core has three planes of motion: the front, which is lateral or side to side; the sagittal plane, which is forward and backward bending; and the transverse, which is the rotating motion of the trunk. All of these planes of motion have to have a full range of motion and efficient use of surrounding musculature for you to function maximally. For instance, if you want to increase your quad strength, you can only get 90-95% of performance if your core is out of alignment. But you can get 100% effectiveness if the core is aligned correctly.
There are three ways to build up the core: joint mobilization, stabilization, and flexibility. Here’s how:
Joint mobilization: This is simply passive exercise that is hands-on movement by your physical therapist (me!) of the bones that make up the joints, pelvis and spine.
Stabilization: Stabilizing exercises will engage the engage the transverse abdominus muscles, which are the deepest of the four abdominal muscles and closely interconnected with the spinal multifidi and rotatory muscles. Try the plank exercise, which involves resting your body on your forearms and the balls of your feet, for 10 to 30 seconds and up to 10 reps. Build up to holding the pose for 1 minute or more. The Bird Dog exercise is a lumbar stabilization classic and involves raising the opposite arm and leg from an all-fours position. Try three sets of 10 reps on each side.
Flexibility: This involves movement of all planes of motion in the core. Some favorites include, Hip Flexor exercises, which can be done kneeling or lying on the table. The pigeon pose in yoga is also a good hip flexor exercise. Also, the Piriformis stretch (butt stretch), which is a Figure 4 exercise accomplished either seated or lying down. Again, start with three sets of 10 reps.
Along with these exercise, Pilates is an overall workout program that is excellent for the core. Remember, pay attention to the core and it will pay off in your performance!