“Core” is one of the most common terms used in sports performance, fitness and rehabilitation. There is no aspect of exercise, training and injury prevention more important, yet more misunderstood.
It is impossible to move your limbs efficiently if they are not attached to a strong and stable base. All the muscles that connect your hips, torso, and shoulders form the stable base for human movement. When this stable base is properly aligned, it is much easier to transfer energy throughout the body, which improves stability and balance, as well as, enhances the production of strength and power with less risk of injury.
Movement starts from the very center of the body. The core is the structural center of movement and life. How well alignment and function is maintained directly correlates to the health of our organs and rest of our bodies. Everything is inter-related. What happens at the big toe affects the knees, the hips, and ultimately the shoulders and neck.
Movement evolves in infants. Infants move on their backs until one day this action allows them to roll over. Learning to roll over strengthens the coordination between the shoulders and hips. Soon infants progress to crawling, standing and, finally, walking, running jumping etc. With each movement pattern progression, babies learn how to stabilize their bodies. Aging reverses that process. Many people lose the ability to squat, lunge, step up, hip hinge, rotate and maintain their balance, creating poor posture and movement compensations that make activities of daily living increasingly difficult. Instead of conceding and allowing this loss to occur it is possible to take a proactive approach to practicing, maintaining and improving these fundamental movement patterns.
Developing or reestablishing a stable strong base requires a systematic approach, very similar to how a baby learns to move. The first step in the process is to ensure the body has all the mobility it needs in the appropriate areas to achieve effective posture and joint alignment. Next, stability must be developed in order to maintain proper body alignment and produce force during a variety of dynamic movement patterns. Third, the ability to maintain body alignment should be challenged by external loads in different positions and at the various speeds that are encountered in activities of daily living and/or sport. To get the best results in both the short and long term, this hierarchy should be followed.
The muscular system is both complex and simple, it is a series of muscular and fascial bands that work together seamlessly to produce movement. Many workout programs focus on training muscles individually on strength machines. Unfortunately, this approach may do more damage than good by producing muscle imbalances and inefficient movement patterns that sabotage the highly coordinated operating system that we are all born with.
The Top Core Misconceptions
1. Your core is your abs and low back:
Current research indicates that the core is not a specific anatomical structure, instead, the core is a functional unit that is task-specific. Core stability and function involves two separate, but interrelated muscular factions: the superficial (global) and deep (local) core.
In short, your superficial/global muscles are the muscles farther from the skeleton and those built for short duration/high tension activities such as heavy lifting and carrying the deep/local muscles are closest to your spine. The local/ deep muscles are responsible for balanced postural positioning during longer duration/low intensity activities, such as sitting, standing, walking, running, etc. Cooperation of these two core systems occurs by the deep muscles activating prior to the superficial muscles, during limb or trunk movements.
2. There are core-specific exercises:
This is true to a point, but in reality nearly all movements done while maintaining effective posture and joint alignment should be considered training that improve the core. Often, the exercises that are labeled core-specific are simply positional holds of more complex movements or movements that have been simplified to allow pelvic orientation, joint alignment and posture to be practiced / emphasized.
Consider the prone plank as an example of this concept. The prone plank is no more of a core exercise than a push-up. The plank is simply a static hold of the full push-up movement. The push-up itself, when performed properly, is an excellent demonstration of dynamic core stability and strength. According to the research of Dr. Stuart McGill and Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, the muscles of the core are biomechanically function as stabilizers of the lumbar spine, designed to prevent movement not create movement. Therefore, several of the traditional “core” exercises such as crunching variations, back extension exercise, and movements that involve rotation of the lumbar spine have been shown to be detrimental to long term spine health and core function. The muscles of the body work in a chain, allowing for the pelvis to be held in a neutral position to maintain proper posture, when this interdependent chain is not maintained the presence of pain and injury becomes more probable.