Core stability: what is it and why is it important?!
We’ve been talking about core stability for years but do you really know what it means? Did you know that your abs are more than just your 6 pack? Did you know that you actually have three layers of abdominal muscles with the deepest layers crucial to your core stability? Did you know that core stability relies on muscles other than your abdominals? Well read on to find out more!
What is core stability?
Core stability refers to your ability to stabilise your core (trunk/pelvis). The greater your core stability, the greater the control you have over your core and limbs thereby allowing more difficult exercises to be performed with reduced risk of injury. For example, runners who experience hip pain often find that improving their core stability improves pelvic control which in turn may eliminate their pain. Or as your core gets stronger with planking exercises, you are able to progress your plank by moving your arms or legs as your core control has improved.
Your core muscles should fire just before any movement you perform to help support your spine. Failure to do so may result in back pain or poor body alignment.
Anatomy of your core
Your core stability comes from the strength and activation of not only your abdominal muscles, but also your back muscles and pelvic floor!
- Abdominals: 3 layers
- Rectus abdominus – the ‘6 pack’ muscle which helps to flex your trunk
- Internal and external obliques – help to rotate and side-bend your trunk
- Transversus abdominus (TA)– the key to core stability – wraps around your body to insert via connective tissue into your spine. When you contract it, it acts like a corset to stabilise your core and protect your spine
- Back muscles – erector spinae, multifidus – work to stabilise your vertebrae and work in conjunction with your other core msucles to stabilise your spine, trunk and pelvis
- Pelvic floor muscles – the hammock of muscles that connect your pubic bone to your coccyx which support your internal organs as well as working with other core muscles to stabilise your pelvis
- Diaphragm – your key breathing muscle forms the top of your core and provides stability for complex movements
How to activate your core
The first step to activating your core is to contract your TA. Do this by gently drawing your lower belly (between your belly button and pubic bone) towards your spine by 1-2cm and maintaining it for as long as you can. If you rest your fingers 2cm inside your hip bones, you should feel your TA contract. Make sure you breathe normally as your TA must be activated while you move and clearly you need to breathe when moving and exercising! If you find you can only hold this contraction for a few seconds, keep working on it until you build up endurance. Your core stability muscles are endurance muscles as they need to be switched on whenever you move and exercise to protect and support your body.
If you are struggling with this, try squeezing and lifting your pelvic floor. You will usually feel your lower tummy come in slightly at the same time. This is your TA contracting as it has similar nerve supply to your pelvic floor muscles.
Once you have mastered the TA and pelvic floor contraction, you should aim to activate these muscles not only when you are exercising, but whenever you are moving (ie getting out of a chair, getting out of bed etc). The more you do practice, the quicker it will become a habit and you can start to progress your core strength training. Use the exercises described here to progress your core strength.
We hope that gives you a better understanding of what core stability actually is, the muscles involved and how and when to activate them. Over the coming months we will be releasing a two week Challenge Me Fitness core strength program so keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram accounts for further updates! For further information, please feel free to contact me directly via [email protected]