A Strong Core For Life – Part 1

Stability is key

Got backpain? Want some shape? Need some flexibility? Want to look good in a bathing suit/bikini?

The answer to all these queries lies in a simple solution – having a strong core. In fact having a strong core plays a very underrated role in our health and wellbeing.

Ouch, My Back!

Up to 80% of people will have backpain at some point in their lives. Besides medical and surgical conditions (trauma such as motor vehicle accident, falls, infections, autoimmune conditions, tumors etc) the majority of back pain we experience comes from improper use of our natural body structure the way it has been meant to be used.

And here we will get into how this problem comes about and how exactly we can improve this backpain. It begins with the core.

The core is the basis for all movement. It’s a fine balance of musculature involving LAYERS (we’ll get into it). A correctly working our core is within our control – which is where we need to focus.

It’s More Than Just Abs

Being able to stabilize (correctly contract and brace) our core musculature is vital.

If we go back in time, backpain was a luxury that our ancestors couldn’t afford. They needed to function on a basic level that involved moving rocks, building shelter, climbing mountains, or running after food to survive. Having a bad back or unstable core, their likelihood of survival would have been greatly diminished.

Human anatomy hasn’t changed over the past tens of thousands of years, however there has been lifestyle change – increase in sedentary lifestyles and less physical activity – no wonder back pain is on the rise.

Training For All People Of All Ages?

A weight-training program enables the body to increase strength and stabilization. Resistance training is particularly beneficial for the following purposes,

  • increase and maintain your muscle mass (lower fat:muscle ratio)
  • increase bone density (combating osteoporosis),
  • improve balance
  • strengthen your core (especially compound movements)

As we get older, our body undergoes a lot of changes. Aging brings about with it particular changes including:

  • loss in muscle mass (higher fat:muscle ratio)
  • decrease in bone density – high risk of osteoporosis (even higher risk for women due to decreased post menopausal estrogen levels)
  • higher risk for metabolic conditions (hypertension, diabetes mellitus, stroke, heart attacks etc)
  • Poor posture and high risk for chronic back pain

Elderly people will directly prevent, manage or even reverse their ailing conditions by a regular wokrout program, especially resistance – based program. The best time to start one is when younger and carry on working out into old age.

And no – you can never be too old to start exercising, especially a resistance based workout. Elder folk need to be assesed and provided a workout that is within their level of flexibility, balance and works around their ailments – best done under supervision via coaching.

Our core musculature contributes to vital functions within our bodies and enables us to perform simple to complex tasks. Lower back pain is the number one patient complaint in USA – and other countries are seeing a rise in the number of backpain complaints.

How It Works And What It Looks Like:

We first must look at the functional anatomy of our core musculature. We need to understand the benefits that a good core conditioning program can have on our livelihood. A core conditioning program will

  • decrease the likelihood of back and neck pain
  • incontinence
  • ruptured disks
  • muscle and ligament strains
  • all while improving posture.

Let’s understand there are two units to the core:

1. The Inner Unit

THE “INNER UNIT” provides the necessary joint stabilization for the spine. If the inner unit does not activate properly, our spine, pelvis, and joint structures are placed under undue stress.

  • Transverse abdominis
  • Multifidus
  • Pelvic floor
  • Diaphragm

The transverse abdominis (TV) is the deepest, innermost layer of all abdominal muscles. Consider the TV as your body’s personal weight belt.

When the TV contracts it causes hoop tension around your midsection like a girdle or corset. If this muscle does not tighten up, acting as a girdle around your waist, your spine and pelvis are at higher risk of injury. The TV allows equal transfer of the load on all muscles. If it is not braced (tightened), one area – usually the lower back muscles – has to do more work that it’s supposed to.

For example, if you bend over to pick up the laundry basket and your transverse abdominis does not activate properly, this leads to all stabilisation occurring at the segmental (one-joint) level. This stress eventually leads to overload of the segmental stabilizers and—POW! You have massive lower back pain.

This occurs because the segments of your spine tighten down but the gross stabilizer (transverse
abdominis) does not leave the segments to work on their own. They cannot provide enough muscular strength at the segmental level to withstand such a movement.

Now can you imagine lifting weights, grabbing a suitcase off the conveyor belt, or reaching overhead to get down a box of heavy tapes? When the transverse abdominis does not work properly you suffer. This is what we mean when we say to “brace your core” when lifting heavy things.

2. The Outer Unit

The “Outer Unit” musculature system aids in movement and function. The outer unit muscles are basically the prime movers of the core and extremities such as the internal oblique, external oblique, rectus abdominis, back, legs, shoulder girdle, and more.

They each have a vital function in movement and are connected through four major “sling systems.”

They are the muscles we tend to see when we look at – visible abs, or glutes, and they are also important for our core to work properly. These slings are:

  • Deep longitudinal system
  • Lateral system
  • Anterior oblique system
  • Posterior oblique system

The Basis for an Core Exercise Program

A core program should include exercises for both the inner and outer unit. An outer unit program consists of exercises that allow for multijoint/ multi-plane activities. This issue has been forgotten or not taught at many gyms or in exercise programs.

Some exercises to help to activate the Inner Unit include:

  • Scissor Kicks
  • Planks
  • Leg Raises
  • Dead Bugs
  • Russian Twists

Once a neurological and muscular base has been established, however, we must move on to integrate all the muscles that surround the knee joint, hip joint, pelvis, core, and lower extremities. We need to establish a fully functional dynamic muscular system. Some exercise for the outer unit are:

  • Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Multi-directional Lunge
  • Bent-over Rows
  • Crunches

Outer exercises will include the muscles around the core such as the back, shoulder, glutes, quads and hamstrings. A good workout program will include compound movements as well and direct ab exercises. Free weighted compound movements work the core preferably to machines because machines remove the need to stabilise.

Yoga is a great practise that engages the inner and outer units so is also a good help for those who may be looking to alleviate back pain. A strong core will carry you into the years.

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