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Good fitness is a ‘core’ issue

In fitness, “the core” and “core training” are terms thrown around often, and are buzzwords usually associated with the abdominal muscles. Contrary to the popular belief that the core refers only to the abdominal area, the core consists of all the muscles that connect to the spine. This includes the hips, pelvis, abdominals, lower back, mid-back, and even the neck. Essentially, the core is everything but the arms and legs. Approximately 29 muscles make up the core musculature. These muscles are divided into two categories, stabilization and movement.

The stabilization category is composed of small muscles positioned relatively close to the spine. These muscles include the transverse abdominis (our internal “girdle” that when engaged, makes our waist smaller), multifidus (little muscles that attach the vertebrae and stabilize them), and the internal obliques, to name a few. These muscles are responsible for stability of the spine and core region. Core stabilization is the ability to maintain proper spinal and pelvic alignment of the body while performing daily tasks.

Muscles in the movement category include muscles you can see, like the rectus abdominus (the six-pack muscles), external obliques (rotational, side muscles), and erector spinae (muscles that run the length of the spine on the back). These muscles fall into this group because of their function in the movement of the spine and core region. Once the deep core stability muscles have been conditioned, it is imperative to work on the strength and power of the external core movement muscles. An effective core training program should include a variety of exercises that involve stability (little to no motion) as well as exercises that involve movements in all directions.

WHY IS THE CORE IMPORTANT?

A strong core is important for efficient and safe movement. If the core musculature is not working properly, our ability to control our structure and stabilize our spine is hindered, thus increasing the risk of injury. With a sedentary lifestyle and a structure that is less than prepared to handle the stresses placed upon it, core training becomes a critical component in a comprehensive health and fitness program.

Every sport can benefit from increased core conditioning as can any activity that requires balance, strength and stability. For those that have a more sedentary job and lifestyle, a strong, conditioned core can help prevent many lower back problems. As we age, we will be better able to prevent falls, if we have better balance and stability.

CORE TRAINING FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Unfortunately, getting rid of belly fat involves more than just performing core exercises. It involves eating a reduced calorie diet and participating in an exercise program. Although you can’t spot reduce fat, an efficiently functioning core can help firm both the entire abdominal region and the hip region (the glutes). These are the problem areas for many people. While creating a stable and safe internal foundation for training, core training also burns more calories than traditional ab and back work.

Core training is an important component in programs designed for strength and muscle gains. Because the core is where all movement begins, most exercisers are limited by their ability to stabilize, particularly at the spine. Remember, the core acts like an anchor for the arms and legs. If the anchor isn’t strong, the extremities will not be able to lift heavy loads.

Knowing this, it is important to make sure that the small muscles that protect the spine are working properly so as to control unwanted movement, and that the nervous system is communicating properly with the core muscles. Core training teaches the nervous system to recruit muscles in the proper synergy so movement is more efficient. However, one of the most important benefits of core training is the fact that, when muscles are recruited properly, the nervous system is recruiting more muscle fibers, thus allowing the body to lift heavier loads safely for longer periods of time.

As you become fit, it takes more work to continue to get greater gains in fitness. As your core becomes stronger, it will take more work to fatigue it and get a good workout that makes you even stronger. By structuring your workout appropriately you can stay strong to the core!

Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years.