What is the ”core”?
The “core” is made up of several muscle groups including the transversus abdominis (TrA), multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles (2). These muscles work together to produce stability in the abdominal and lower spinal region, as well as to support and coordinate movements of the limbs and spine more generally (2). The “core” may also include bigger muscle groups such as the rectus abdominis (aka the six-pack) and lower back muscles – however in a clinical sense we are usually referring to the smaller stabilising muscles (4).
If you’re more of a visual person, try picturing the “core” as a muscular box, comprised of the abdominals at the front, paraspinals and glutes in the back, diaphragm at the roof, and pelvic floor and hip girdle muscles as the bottom (3). The muscles within this box help to stabilise the spine and pelvis, as well as help to support the body during functional movements (3).
Now we’ve covered that, so it’s time to discuss what is core stability and what are some core exercises.
What is core stability?
Core stability typically refers to the active component of the stabilising system – in other words, tissues of the body that actually do something (1). These active components include deep (as in deep within the body) muscles that provide segmental stability (including TrA and multifidus), and/or the superficial (as in close to the surface) muscles (for example rectus abdominis aka the six-pack, and erector spinae) (1). These groups of muscles (aka the active components), work together in coordination with passive structures (such as the vertebrae of the lumbar spine) and control systems (such as neurological systems) to produce stability.
Why is it important?
Essentially, stability is crucial to allow movement, load transfer, and to protect the spinal cord and nerve roots (1). More specifically, core stability is important to support the body during physically demanding tasks (1). To provide stability and support for the spine, it is important to learn how to properly engage your core in a variety of positions and during functional activities (2). Essentially, having a strong and stable core will allow the trunk and limb muscles to operate from a stable mid-section. This can help to prevent difficulties and potential injuries resulting from poor and uncontrolled movement patterns (4).
Who can benefit from doing core exercises?
We’ll keep this simple, pretty much everyone! Everyone will have a different starting level in terms of the intensity they can tolerate, however the beautiful thing about core exercises is that they can be regressed and progressed an infinite number of times.
What kind of exercises can I do to improve my core strength and stability?
Some of my favourite exercises are:
- Dead bug (arms +/- legs)
- Bird dog (arms +/- legs)
- Side planks (yuck, I know)