Personal trainers and exercise gurus often talk about the importance of good core strength, but have you ever wondered…what is core strength and how do I get it?
Where is your core?
When we refer to our core, we are talking about that part of our structure that keeps us upright and balanced. Specifically, it is the area deep within our body at the base of our spine. We are referring to the bones, muscles and support tissue around our lower back.
What is core strength?
Basic physiology states that for any joint in our body to be healthy, it must have strong muscles all around it. In order to have good core strength, we need to have strong muscles all around our core; back, front (abdominals), and sides (obliques).
Our back muscles are inherently strong because they are used regularly throughout the day, every time we bend forward our back muscles are used.
The more we call upon our back muscles to lift something heavy, the more work our abdominals should do to stabilize our spinal joints as they move. However, as humans, we are very smart and we have learned that if we stabilize our spine by locking the joints together, we can achieve the same effect.
The dichotomy between our tight back muscles and our weak front muscles is what causes us to be lazy by improperly stabilizing our back while lifting by arching our lower back.
This posture crams our small posterior facet joints together. By cramming these delicate small joints in the back of our spine together year after year, we create excessive wear and tear (osteoarthritis) to these joints. To avoid this progressive disease it would be in our best interest then to work on achieving core strength!
How do I achieve core strength?
You begin by learning to stretch the back muscles
Then you work to strengthen the front muscles &
Finally, you train your new-found strength to create a more stable foundation!
Below is a step by step guide. You should not begin all the exercises at once. They build and progress with each other. Begin with the lower back stretch and do that for about a week. Then move on to the strengthening before incorporating the pelvic tilt.
Lower Back Stretch
Begin on the floor, your bed or couch is too soft. Bring your knees up to your chest and wrap your hands around them. Using your arms, gently, but firmly stretch both knees up to your chest. You should feel a little pulling in your lower back. Hold this stretch for 2-3 minutes, no bouncing or straining; just a nice firm steady stretch.
After about 3 minutes you should begin to feel some of the tension begin releasing from your lower back. When it does, stretch your knees up more firmly to re-introduce the tension to your lower back. Hold this for another 1-2 minutes.
Do it once daily, every day for a week before moving to the next step, strengthening your front muscles.
Tradition would have it that doing sit-ups would be the way to go. And, while this technique can work at toning our abs, in our opinion it is not the best way. The reason is that if not done properly, doing sit-ups can cause more harm than good.
Begin on the floor. Bring your knees up so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor; this is your starting and ending position. From here bring your knees up to your chest without your hands and squeeze out the last 1/2 inch for 2-3 seconds; making your abs work extra hard. Then bring your knees back to the starting position.
Repeat this activity as many times as you can until you feel a burning in your lower abdominals, and then do it 5 more times; Burn +5. The Goal is 30 reps.
Repeat once daily immediately after your complete the Lower Back Stretch.
First, it is important to realize that this new routine is in addition to the first two; continue to perform the lower back stretches and the ab strengthening exercises, in that order, on a regular basis. Daily at first, then 3 times per week after a good 6 to 12 months.
To do the pelvic tilt you want to begin on the floor. Bend your knees, feet flat on the floor. In this position you want to engage your abdominal muscles and glut muscles, pulling up on your pelvis in the front, feeling your lower back touch the floor. If you are having difficulty feeling this, placing your hand under your lower back can help. Please note… you should not be feeling your butt/pelvis rising up off the floor. If you are pushing down on your heels, you are doing it wrong.
Phase 2: Perform the pelvic tilt. While holding the pelvic tilt with your lower back firmly to the floor, raise one knee toward your chest and then bring it back down to the starting position, then do the same with your other leg, all the while holding the pelvic tilt. Repeat this activity of “alternating march” until you begin to feel your lower back raise up off the floor.
Phase 3: This is the exact same routine as Phase 2 except after raising your first leg to your chest, bring your second leg up so that both legs are up at the same time. Then the first leg you brought up is the first leg you bring back down; DO NOT BRING BOTH LEGS DOWN TOGETHER. After bringing your second leg down it will be the first leg you raise back up again; this way you will be alternating which leg goes up first. Once again, the first leg up is the first one down. Stop the exercise once you begin losing the pelvic tilt and you feel your lower back come off the floor.
At this point you want to begin incorporating the pelvic tilt throughout your daily routine. Do it while standing, while sitting, and while driving. The more this maneuver becomes habit, the more stable and strong your core and your lower back will become.
Repeat all three exercises once daily until you catch yourself doing pelvic tilts subconsciously out of habit. At this point you can cut down to doing them three times weekly.
Good luck! If you have any questions or want more information on establishing a strong core, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!