Injury prevention and rehabilitation, better posture and limb function, greater body positioning awareness (known as proprioception) and improved balance and co-ordination can all be attributed to good core stability and strength. Core Stability is the ability to deal with perturbations in which proprioception plays an important role. For a physical activity to be performed the brain must constantly monitor limb position and velocity and posture and make adjustments to muscles as needed to provide balance. Sometimes these adjustments need to be made quickly and proprioceptor reflex circuits are thought to allow fast and unconscious execution of movements. When we challenge proprioception during training activities, as in the example of using unstable surfaces, it forces us to engage our core muscles thereby strengthening them and improving our balance.
Rolling the ball around forces the core muscles to engage.
The core region is essentially your trunk and can be divided into two groups, the major core and the minor core. The major core is made up of deep muscle layers that lie close to the spine that include the abdominals, obliques, the spinal extensors and the diaphragm. The minor core muscles such as the large smooth muscles of your back and the trapezius help to stabilize and strengthen the back.
Core stability has been found by researchers to have a direct relationship to injury showing a link between decreased stability and higher risk of sustaining a lower back or knee injury. Decreased core stability has also shown to impair postural control, delay muscle reflex responses, effect balance and make abnormal trunk muscle activations. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function.
The benefits of a strong core:
- strengthens and stabilizes lower back which in turn lowers injury
- helps you to run faster
- helps to keep proper body alignment and stability in swimming
- enhances flexibility
- gives a tall, strong posture
- improves balance and co-ordination
- improves brain function and spatial awareness
- helps to protect inner organs and central nervous system
- helps boost confidence and to feel better
Core Stability, injury free performance report from Peak Performance states that poor core stability will short circuit any attempts to improve deficiencies in flexibility or whole body muscular strength and endurance (durability). Without a stable trunk you will endlessly battle with injury and poor performance, and will certainly never reach your full potential. Progression and variety are key to optimising benefits of a strengthening programme. Use a wide variety of movements to maximise adaptations for improvement.
Regularly changing your workout routines keeps the muscles 'guessing' and inhibits the likelihood of your progress plateauing. It only takes 3 weeks for your body to adapt so keep changing it up!
Pilates is a great way to strengthen the core, develop your proprioception and lengthen out the muscle fibres, however joining a large class where the instructor is unable to give individual attention is not recommended. The correct muscle activation needs to take place when performing each exercise so that you gain the full benefits and avoid injury. Repetitive sit-ups and crunches can cause injury to the spine so if you choose to do these types of exercises keep them to a minimum. Some exercises to try are:
- front and side plank, plank press-ups
- single leg squat and hold on balance board
- unilateral leg circles
- swiss ball back extensions
- side leg lift
- kneeling side kick
- leg raises lying on back