• 3 Key Principles to Keep in Mind When Strengthening Your Core

    July 27, 2021 | By Tony Yong

    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, most notably 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.

    To make core injury matters even more complicated, there are deep and superficial abdominal muscle groups, and it is crucial 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.

     

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    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.

    As well, holding your breath is an indicator that you are recruiting the stronger, more superficial abdominal muscles rather than the deep abdominal muscles. 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, for example, 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 you are 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 length of time you are holding the contraction, decreasing the number of sets/repetitions, or choosing a more accessible version of an exercise to ensure you can perform the exercise 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 lower back pain. Also, check to make sure that you are not arching your back during a workout. Arching 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 experience lower back pain when performing a core exercise or 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 length of time you perform an exercise or try a more accessible version of the activity until you can achieve the exercise with good technique.

     

    If you have any questions or concerns about strengthening your core safely and effectively, contact Innovation Physical Therapy today. We’re here to help you, “Love Getting Better!”

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