Many people who spend hours in the gym working on their core muscles still find that they have a weak core, or they experience strain in their backs and muscles; or worse yet… they injure themselves performing sports or other activities. So what’s the problem?
The problem is this. Many of the core exercises people focus on in the gym (sit ups, crunches, planks, etc) all focus on strengthening muscles, not stabilizing them. This means that the muscles that are worked on during these exercises are the muscles meant for movement, not the muscles meant to support the spine.
To further clarify what it is
I am talking about try doing this exercise:
Lie on your back with your knees up and your feet flat on the ground
Just breath, but focus on how it feels. Notice your ribs moving and the shape of your spine
Place your index fingers on the bones at the top of your pelvis at the front
Now as slowly as you can, lift one foot up from the floor and feel what happens
Now repeat this movement but this time try not to allow any movement in your pelvis or lower spine
If you notice anything changes (holding your breath, back arching or pelvis rolling, or feel a little twinge in your back) you could increase your core strength.
Continuing to practice this exercise will help you focus on your stabilizing muscles. Breathing as you move is very important as it will help you to stay loose and not become rigid. Our bodies are designed to move in sync with our breathing, so if you are holding your breath this cycle will be disrupted and the muscles won’t be worked out or used properly. Not to mention if you hold your breath while doing this exercise it will make it impossible to continue doing this exercise for long!
A lean, toned body or huge rigid muscles may look attractive to the observer, but they are practically useless without core stability. Thankfully those in the health and fitness industry are starting to realize the importance of core stability and are now taking measures to work in exercises that will work out the core.
Although this does help, few people really do understand the concept of core stability and what it means to them. Basically, the body is composed of hundreds of different muscles that all serve a particular purpose. The pecs, glutes, delts, abs, and biceps are largely focused on as they are aesthetically appealing as well as the main muscles for strength. These muscles are supported with hundreds of smaller, often ignored muscles that are just as important. These muscles provide stability for the rest of the body.
These muscles, often referred to as the core muscles, are responsible for stabilizing the rest of the body. A good comparison of these muscles to help give you an understanding of what it is they do would be to an automotive suspension system.
If you can picture the strength muscles as the springs, than it is easy to compare the stabilizing muscles to the shock absorbers. They are little and often hidden, but just as a car needs the shock absorbers, the body desperately needs the stabilizer muscles.
When it comes to spinal stability, the deep abdominals are essential. Although these muscles are not at all visible to the outside world, they form a cylindrical shape around the spine and provide both a cushion as well as support.
The main purpose of these muscles apart from protecting the spine is to provide stabilizing movement to the intricate joints of the spinal column. Just like a car suspension system, it absorbs shock to the spine that would cause damage over time if it were not present.
Although situps and crunches are great for six pack abs, you should make sure you have good core stability before you engage in these exercises long term. Without a foundation these exercises could actually cause strain or even injury to the lower back or spine.
With that in mind it is important to activate and engage the core muscles before you dedicate yourself to a strength building exercise routine. Another area of focus is the deltoids in the upper back as well as the shoulders. They look great when they are well developed, but these are not the stabilizing muscles in the shoulder. If you spend too much time working on these muscles while ignoring the deeper stabilizers you could put unnecessary strain on your neck and back and could potentially cause injury.
Every part of the body has a set of stabilizers.
The feet have stabilizers used for balancing, ankles rely on both the foot muscles and hip muscles for function, like the ankles, the knees also use both muscles in the feet as well as the hips for good stability.
Even the neck has a set of deeper muscles used for stability and movement.
To sum everything up, the often overlooked core muscles play an essential role in the function and well being of the entire body. Without these little components, all the strength training in the world would do absolutely nothing for the body!