If you suffer from back pain, changes are, your doctor of chiropractor may have recommended some activities aimed at strengthening your core. Core exercises have become a popular focus for fitness gurus and common Joes alike. Bodybuilders to wellness doctors advocate core training as a means to a healthier, pain free life. Join a gym, hire a personal fitness trainer or join a CrossFit group and you will grow intimate with exercises created to strengthen and increase your core endurance. The benefits of exercise alike, is core strength training really useful?
hat are the core muscles? Core is defined as ‘the central or most important part of something’. The body’s core muscle group are the muscles that make up the torso and connect the upper body to the lower body. Also called your ‘stabilizer muscles,’ the core muscles help to keep us balanced and the spinal system aligned. Nearly every movement that you make has to be offset by the body’s core. Lift a child with your arms and your stomach muscles tighten to offset the force being exerted by the arms. Bend over or kick a ball and your lower back and abdominal muscles counteract the movement so that you don’t end up on the floor. Its Einstein’s theory in practice. For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. Your core, stabilizer muscles keep your body balanced and stop the rest of you from flinging across the room to offset the forces wielded by the rest of you. In this manner, your skeletal structure remains intact and healthy.
What is Core Strength Training? Adding strength and endurance directed toward improving core muscles has become widely popular. This ‘core revolution’ originated with Paul Hodges book Therapeutic Exercise for Segmental Spinal Stabilization in Lower Back Pain, which was published in 1999. Hodges mainstreamed the term core strength and brought consciousness to the practice of improving and increasing core muscle ability. In a short number of years core training became the new fitness fab and everyone jumped in feet first throwing core training at the public.
Does Core training work? Advocates of building core strength through exercise regimen propose advantages such as lower back, increased athletic performance, fewer injuries, greater balance and other advantages. The Mayo Clinic lists greater balance and stability as one of the five main benefits of core training. However, Eyal Lederman published a critique of core stabilization and effectiveness in 2009. In his study, Lederman analyzed specific areas of core training including the effectiveness of sit-ups to reduce back pain and retrain pregnant women’s transverse abdominis (TrA). While Lederman had some very accurate critiques of many assumptions around core strengths, his study focused on specific technical aspects of core training. For example, he studied the length of the TrA, and the effectiveness of specific exercises believed to be core building, but he failed to study the underlying claims of the benefits of core training. Lumbar did not study if greater core endurance led to decreased pain or increased balance and came to the assumption that core exercises added no greater benefit than regular exercise.
There are however several studies that have focused on specific aspects of core training and its benefits. Norris and Matthews published a study: The role of an integrated back stability program in patients with chronic low back pain in 2008 that incorporated a core training to a set of patients with recent back pain. These subjects had not suffered regular back pain recently, which ruled out major or debilitating back problems. Norris and Matthews found that core exercise decreased back pain in 89% of the subjects. Another Study Acute effect of labile surfaces during core stability exercises in people with and without low back pain in 2011 found that core exercises did increase balance and stability among subjects. Many other studies have continued to show that at least in regards to improving back pain and stability that core training does work. However not all core exercises are created equally beneficial.
What core exercises are the most beneficial? The best core exercises will depend on the desired result. Individuals who struggle with basic balance and other health issues will need different exercises than athletes who are looking to improve performance. There are five main components to core training; strength, endurance, flexibility, motor control, and function.
- 1.The Plank:
The plank is performed by getting into sit up position. The toes are tucked
under the body. The body is rigid and maintains a straight posture with the
elbows against the ground and the forearms flat against the ground. The body
weight rests on the elbows and feet. The difficulty of this position is that
the core of the body, the stomach and back must maintain the straight posture
and hold the body erect. This position should be held for 90 seconds and
performed in 3 rounds. The side plank is performed when the body is turned on
the side so that one foot rests against the ground and one arm hold the weight
of the body. This position works the side muscles of the body’s core.
- . Knees to
chest pull ups: This exercise is done by hanging from a pull up bar.
Maintaining shoulder alignment, and while avoiding turning or twisting of the
body, bring the knees up to touch the chest. Another variation of this exercise
involves bringing the toes up to tough the bar. This exercise should be done
without momentum and should be performed with control.
- 3. Deadlift: The deadlift involves a barbell
with a larger amount of weight that is typically done in arm strength training.
A new user weighing 120 lbs. can start with a deadlift weight of 105 lbs. The
deadlift performed by positioning the feet underneath the shoulders, spaced 6
inches apart. Maintaining a straight back, the user squats and holds the barbell
with hands on both sides of the body. The arms remain straight- this is not arm
training, while the individual stands. This places the entire lifting on the
legs of the user and does not add strain or movement to arms, torso or back.
Conclusion: Core exercise and training does improve back pain. Core has also been shown to improve stability. Although there are not many studies that have studied performance in athletes and core fitness as an isolated variable, it is widely believed that core endurance helps contribute to athletic performance and reduce the changes of injury.