When people think of core training, the first image that often comes into mind is a desirable six-pack or curvy waist. Although aesthetically pleasing, core training is far more than about looks.
A strong core is crucial to virtually all human movement (1,2,3). From stabilizing the spine while walking to kicking the game-winning goal in a soccer game, you can thank your core for properly transferring forces between limbs and guarding the body against injury.
If you’ve ever worked with or heard a personal trainer working with a client, you will likely hear them say multiple times throughout the session, telling their client to “keep your core tight!” or “maintain a neutral spine through the range of motion.” This is because when the core is engaged correctly, forces transmit better between the upper and lower body as you can only lift as much as you can stabilize.
For example, suppose you have two people performing a back squat, one on a buso ball and the other on flat ground; whom do you think will lift more weight? From this perspective, it becomes quite apparent that the one who has to put more effort into stabilizing themselves on the stability ball will not be able to lift as much. This is primarily because an unstable surface limits how much force the body can produce (1).
Another key concept often discussed regarding human biomechanics is that “proximal stability equals distal mobility” (1,2,3). Essentially, this means that a strong, stable base creates a better platform to move on, and therefore, these more distant regions of the body, i.e. ankles can move more efficiently if the hips above are stable.
Huxel et al. referenced a study in their paper concluding that external hip rotation (outside hip strength) was the strongest predictor of injury and that a relationship exists between weak core strength and an increased likelihood of ankle sprains (1,3). In addition, a large body of evidence suggests individuals with low back pain have poor endurance and delayed activation of the hip muscles, specifically the glute maximus (back of the hip) and medius (side of the hip), which negatively influence the structures around them.
A lack of core strength creates a chain reaction that can disrupt other areas of the body, which can become a problem point but is just the byproduct of a much more deep seeded issue up the stream. Therefore, it is wise to say one is only as strong as their foundation, and in human movement, that foundation often begins with a strong and stable core.
Given the significance of the role the core plays in human movement, I wanted to share with you some actionable steps you can take to start engaging your core properly:
Stand or sit up straight with your shoulders back, chest lifted, and head aligned with your spine.
Imagine that you are wearing a corset or belt around your waist. Try to draw your belly button towards your spine, as if you are trying to tighten the corset or belt. This will help you engage your transverse abdominis, one of the main muscles of your core.
Keep your core muscles engaged as you move. Whether you are standing, walking, or lifting something, try to keep your core muscles engaged and your belly button drawn towards your spine. This will help you maintain good posture and stability.
It's also a good idea to focus on proper breathing techniques when engaging your core muscles. Start by taking a deep breath in then “pressurizing” that air to create a natural weightlifting belt.
I hope you now have a better understanding of the significance the core plays in our day-to-day movement along with some actionable steps to engage it properly. If you are looking for a program to help you improve your movement download my FREE 4-week mobility program designed to make you move and feel better.
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Akuthota, V., Ferreiro, A., Moore, T., & Fredericson, M. (2008). Core stability exercise principles. Current sports medicine reports, 7(1), 39-44.
Kibler, W. B., Press, J., & Sciascia, A. (2006). The role of core stability in athletic function. Sports medicine, 36(3), 189-198.
Huxel Bliven, K. C., & Anderson, B. E. (2013). Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports health, 5(6), 514-522.