3 Key Principles to Keep in Mind When Strengthening Your Core
Having a strong core is much more than getting that 6-pack; it is important in the prevention and treatment of many injuries, especially low back injuries. We know that strengthening your core is important, but what does that really mean?
Many of us think about doing crunches or sit-ups to work our abs. But the truth is, your core is much more than just your abdominal muscles, so your core exercise program must consist of more than just sit-ups and crunches. Your core program should include a variety of different, functional exercises to keep you challenged and to strengthen your core more effectively.
To make matters even more complicated, there are both deep and superficial abdominal muscle groups and it is important to ensure that both are recruited during your exercises. It is common for the deep abdominal muscles to be overshadowed by the larger, superficial muscles, leaving them to remain weak relative to the rest of your core. We want to avoid this imbalance because the deep muscles are very important for lumbar and pelvic stability.
To help you strengthen your core effectively and safely, we have highlighted 3 key principles to keep in mind.
Principle #1: Don’t Forget to Breathe!
It is common for people to intentionally or unintentionally hold their breath while performing an exercise. This is not a good thing because your muscles require oxygen and if you are holding your breath, they will not be able to work as effectively and as a result, you will not be as effective in strengthening them.
As well, holding your breath is an indicator that you are recruiting the stronger, more superficial abdominal muscles rather than the deep abdominal muscles. This can contribute to muscle imbalance and undue pressure through the abdominal cavity.
If you are performing an exercise in which you are holding a contraction for a specific period of time, as you would in a planking exercise for example, be sure to keep your breathing pattern steady and controlled. When doing an exercise that requires you to contract and relax your core, as you would in a sit-up for example, make sure you breath out when contracting the targeted muscle and breath in when returning to the start position.
Principle #2: Bulging is Bad
If you notice that your belly sticks out or bulges while you are performing a core exercise, it is likely that you are recruiting the superficial abdominal muscles and leaving the deeper ones under-utilized. Not only that, it is also likely that you are not performing the exercise at an appropriate difficulty level.
If you notice that your stomach is bulging while performing an exercise, decrease the intensity of the exercise by decreasing the length of time you are holding the contraction, decreasing the number of sets/repetitions, or choose an easier version of an exercise to make sure you can perform the exercise effectively and with good technique.
Principle #3: Watch your Alignment
It is important to make sure that you maintain a neutral spine when performing core exercises, especially if you suffer from low back pain. Check to make sure that you are not arching your back during an exercise as this is a common compensation behaviour for when your abdominal muscles aren’t strong enough to perform the exercise at that level of difficulty or for that duration.
If you do experience low back pain when performing a core exercise or if you feel like your spine isn’t neutral, this is an indicator that you should check your alignment again. If you aren’t in a neutral position and you are unable to obtain a neutral low back, try shortening the length of time you are performing an exercise for or try an easier version of the exercise until you can perform the exercise with good technique.
If you have any questions or concerns about strengthening your core safely and effectively, visit us at one of our 3 Edmonton physiotherapy clinic locations (Belvedere, Namao or Riverbend) or our newest physiotherapy clinic location in Sherwood Park.