What does core strength mean to you?

 If you look in a dictionary the word ‘core’ relates to the central part of something that is deemed to be the most important.  But I also found this explanation, ‘… the part of something that has to be understood before the whole thing can be dealt with.’

For me, that sums it up perfectly – to fully understand the function of the core and how our muscles have been designed to work together is a key step to achieve optimal health, increase strength, and to experience a full range of movement.

Maybe it’s time to rethink what core strength means to you?

In general, your core is the area of your body between the ribs and the hips.  Many people who get in contact with me at the Pilates Studio tell me they need to improve their ‘core strength’ to provide a solution to a pain they are experiencing, to prevent injury, to stop symptoms associated with pelvic floor problems, to achieve a flatter tummy, to have the ability to lift heavier weights, or maybe to improve their mobility.

But what exactly do you know about the ‘core’, and when you mention ‘core strength’ what is your understanding?

Your core is more than your abdominal muscles

Let’s say you’re after a more sculptured look: a toned tummy with visible muscle definition. Without understanding your core’s function, you may have been tempted previously to adopt the more traditional abdominal-centric approach which focusses on training your abdominal muscles through sit-ups, planks, etc.

The traditional method builds and tones these muscles through voluntary movement to provide and can contribute to increased strength of those muscles.  However, the strength of the ‘core’ comes from the muscles to co-ordinate, to be supportive and the capacity to relax when needed.

What may also be happening whilst performing more isolated ‘core’ exercises is:

  • Training muscles in isolation potentially creates increased tension in the muscles, preventing them from releasing when needed and preventing them from working effectively with the other muscle. All muscles have an opposition to work with and against.  If there is too much tension in one muscles there will also been too much in the opposing muscle.  Either both start to be inhibiting in their capacity to be fully supportive when needed.
  • Our daily activities and working positions encourages a developmental change in alignment and muscle balance in the body. Isolated ‘core’ exercises then train that body position further.  This can compromise the capacity for the deeper stabilising muscles of the ‘core’ (multifidus, the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, and the transverse abdominals) to perform their roles of supporting the spine and control the pressure within the body and hampering the ability to attain optimal core function and strength.

In a nutshell, traditional methods of core exercise have the potential to create an imbalance which can compromise the body and lead to experiences of discomfort, limited movement, and problems with your pelvic floor.

Doing ‘core’ exercises is not wrong, completely depends on what you are trying to do. However, they need to be considered in relation to where movement does or doesn’t already happen in the body and how the body is achieving the exercises.  I can think of many more effective muscles for the ‘core’ that incorporates the function of the body and I don’t know about you but I would always rather do one exercise that gives more ‘bang for my buck’ than spend longer doing several isolated exercises!