Our core muscles are responsible for supporting and stabilizing the spine, hips, and pelvis, and form the basis for virtually every movement we make. Core strengthening exercises are a solid step toward staying pain-free throughout life. Despite the popularity of abdominal workouts, especially crunches, the abdominal muscles actually make up a small portion of our essential core muscles.
The muscles of the core can be conceptualized as a cylinder that encompass the entire lumbar spine from all four sides, top and bottom, much like a muscular corset. The front of the abdominal wall is the rectus abdominus. The internal and external obliques along with the quadratus lumborum make up the sides. The multifidi and erector spinae muscle groups are the back wall of the core. The top is made up by the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles make the bottom wall, both help provide support to the core. Finally the transversus abdominis is a hoop-like muscle that wraps around the flanks and abdomen to provide significant core stability.
Incorporating core stabilizing exercises in your fitness workout is a crucial step toward retaining mobility, protecting your spine and helping you stay pain-free.
Some of the best exercises for strengthening the core are known as “bracing exercises.” Bracing exercises focus on the muscles along the spine, trunk, and torso, which are often difficult to work through direct means. Generally, exercises are done using your body weight alone and positions are held in a static position.
The transverse abdominus muscle is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It can be challenging to isolate this muscle if you aren’t used to using this deep muscle. Place your fingers 1” on the inside of your hip bone and cough, you should feel a gentle tightening under your fingers. This is your transverse abdominus. Think about lengthening the width between your hips, you should feel a flattening of your lower abs. In doing so you should feel your belly button come closer to your spine. The core muscles should be engaged approximately 30% of their maximum so that they have enough energy to contract continuously.
Some of the best core strengthening exercises include planks, side bridges and birddogs. The basics of a core stability program can be taught to anyone regardless of your age or fitness level, and are a mainstay for good spinal health and injury prevention.