Having a healthy strong core is not all about six-packs and flat stomachs. There is much more to it than that. I hope to explain what the core muscles are, describe the benefits of having a strong core, and show you how to get one!
The core includes the six-pack muscle, but there are many more muscles that make up the core. These include the lower back muscles, the side muscles and, probably the most important muscles, the ones underneath close to the spine. One of the main functions of the core is to provide stability and power to the limbs and body. The other function is to provide movement - you wouldn’t be able to get out of bed without using the core muscles.
What happens when you have a weak core is that you lose your body’s alignment. This is exacerbated by sedentary computer jobs and causes slouching. This is seen as forward rotation of the shoulders and protrusion of the stomach. Over time this may lead to damage of the spine. Having a strong core can prevent injuries because strong muscles support the hip and spine to provide better protection. One of the core muscles (transvere abdominus) acts as a natural corset around the spine. But a lot of people don’t use this muscle as much as they should. When this muscle is activated, the spine is more protected. Learning how to activate this muscle is the key to core strength. So how do we do it? Think about trying to get into the world’s smallest pair of jeans. When you suck in the stomach you are essentially activating this muscle. Practise this. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Now draw the belly button in as far to the spine as you can (remember imagine getting in to those tight jeans.) Do this for 30 seconds then have a break and repeat. Try this every day. Eventually it will become natural to activate this muscle all the time.
It has been found that people with back pain generally do not activate this muscle enough, and by learning to turn this muscle on, back pain symptoms can reduce. Another benefit of a strong core is that the improved posture makes the stomach look flatter because you are essentially sucking in the gut. The is especially evident for women who may have the dreaded “pooch.” A lot of the time a change in posture reduces this protrusion because the stronger muscles hold the abdominal contents in place. When doing abdominal exercises, try to do equal amounts of exercise. Don’t cause imbalances by only doing sit-ups. Work the lower back muscles as much as the six-pack abs. Otherwise imbalances can occur and this can cause problems later on.
There are many ways to do core exercises. One of them is on unstable surfaces where the abdominals are activated to provide stability. A good piece of equipment is the Swiss ball. They are cheap and can almost replace a gym. You can do tons of exercises on a Swiss ball with a couple of dumbbells. Pilates is another way of exercising that focuses on working the muscles “from the inside out” and is very good for achieving a lean appearance. And for those who still want the six-pack for summer, remember that you can’t see those abs if they’re covered with fat. Eat well and exercise. No magic bullet I’m afraid. Good Luck!