What is the “core” ?

by ​Lorraine Breau-Thompson, PT

Over the past few years, you may have heard people talking about strengthening their “core”. The core is defined as the muscles in our body that are the closest to our center (our core), running from our pelvis up the length of our torso. The abdominal muscles are part of the core musculature but the muscles in the pelvic floor, the back (erector spinae, multifidii) and the diaphragm are also included. The muscles around the hips are often considered in the core muscle groups.

Strength in these muscles is very important in stabilising your spine whether you are just sitting or are in motion. When these muscles are engaged, it gives a solid base of support for more powerful use of the arms and legs. This helps improve athletic performance but also any usual activities we do at work or at home such as scraping the ice from our car windshield or when stirring batter in a bowl. Other benefits of a strong core include having a better posture and often decreased low back pain as the ability to protect the spine is greater when you are stronger and more stable.

There are many exercises designed to strengthen the core. First, you must learn to activate your abdominals by pulling your belly button in toward the spine, without holding your breath. This will contract many of the trunk muscles and stabilise the trunk. One of the more popular core exercises is the “plank” where you support yourself on your forearms and balls of your feet (facing the floor) while keeping your body as straight as a board. Try to keep this position as long as you can without moving your trunk (arching your back could cause some pain). You can consult a physiotherapist for safe core exercises that would be beneficial for you!

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