3 Key Principles to Keep in Mind When Strengthening Your Core

Having a solid core is much more than getting that 6-pack; it is crucial in preventing and treating many injuries, especially lower back injuries. We know that strengthening your core is essential, 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. Instead, your core program should include various functional exercises to keep you challenged and strengthen your core more effectively.

There are deep and superficial abdominal muscle groups, and it is vital to recruit both during your exercises. Unfortunately, it is common for the deep abdominal muscles to be overshadowed by the larger, superficial muscles, leaving them weak relative to the rest of your core. We want to avoid this imbalance because the deep muscles are essential for lumbar and pelvic stability.

To help you strengthen your core effectively and safely, we have highlighted three fundamental principles to keep in mind.

women strengthening her core
man working on core work

Principle #1: Don't Forget to Breathe!

It is common for people to intentionally or unintentionally hold their breath while performing an exercise. Holding one’s breath 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.

Holding your breath is also an indicator that you are recruiting the stronger, more superficial abdominal muscles rather than the deep ones. As a result, holding your breath 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, as you would in a planking exercise, for example, be sure to keep your breathing pattern steady and controlled. When doing an activity that requires you to contract and relax your core, as you would in a sit-up, make sure you breathe out when contracting the targeted muscle and breathe in when returning to the start position.

Principle #2: Bulging is Bad

Suppose you notice that your belly sticks out or bulges while performing a core exercise. In that case, you are likely recruiting the superficial abdominal muscles and leaving the deeper ones under-utilized. Not only that, but it is also likely that you are not performing the exercise at an appropriate difficulty level. Consider decreasing the exercise intensity by lessening the time you are holding the contraction, reducing the number of sets/repetitions, or choosing a more accessible version of an exercise to ensure you can perform the activity effectively and with good technique.

Principle #3: Watch your Alignment

It is vital to make sure that you maintain a neutral spine when performing core exercises, especially if you suffer from low back pain. Also, check to ensure you are not arching your back during a workout, as this is a typical compensation behaviour when your abdominal muscles aren’t strong enough to perform the exercise at that difficulty level 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 recheck your alignment. If you aren’t in a neutral position and cannot obtain a neutral lower back, try shortening the time you perform an exercise or an easier version of the activity until you can achieve the movement with good technique.

Book an Appointment Today!

If you have any questions or concerns about strengthening your core safely and effectively, contact Innovation Physical Therapy today.

Please take the opportunity to book an appointment with one of Innovation Physical Therapy’s experienced physiotherapists by calling one of our five clinics throughout Edmonton, including RiverbendBelvedereNamao, or our newest clinic in Southgate Centre.

We’re here to help you, “Love Getting Better!”