Updated: Feb 1, 2022
I get so many questions about what exactly core muscle strength is all about and why it is so important.
So today, I wanted to share with you a video to help illustrate why having a strong core is not just about looking good in a bathing suit or how well an athlete performs, but more importantly how it can affect your overall mobility, health, and wellness.
So I want you to think of the center of your body or thorax as a soda can. If the top sides and bottom of the can stay intact, then the soda inside of the can stays in place.
This is due to the internal pressure that the soda is exerting onto the inside of the can. This internal pressure within a fully enclosed can provide strength and stability for the entire structure and its contents.
If however, the can has a dent, weakness, or an open pop top, this internal pressure is lost, and the can may collapse under an outside force. A full soda can with a pop top intact can hold significantly more load than it can with a deficiency or an open pop top.
The same goes for our bodies, the can represents our core muscles and the spine and organs are inside of our “can”. The muscles that lie on the front, back, top, bottom, and sides of the core are shown here.
These core muscles manage outside forces by actively contracting which increases the internal pressure inside of the abdomen in order to match any pressures coming in from an outside force.
Therefore, when a load is placed onto the body from the outside world, such as picking up an object playing a sport, gardening or taking a long walk, it has to be managed by the top sides and bottom of the core muscles working together.
Keep in mind, we are not just talking about lifting heavy things here. The core muscles also have to contend with the simple act of fighting gravity pushing down on our skeletons in our daily activities. Even if we're just quietly sitting -this is all day, every day.
If all of the core muscles are strong and working together, then the spine and organs are protected.
A strong and efficient core also allows you to do higher level activities with more strength and better performance. It can also assist in preventing pain and injury. When any extra force is placed on the skeleton, the healthy core can use its strength to exert the increase of internal pressure to support the added force coming in. In this case, we would continue on with what we were doing with no problems we go about our business.
If however, there's a deficiency somewhere in the core muscles and it is not strong enough to counter outside forces, then the spine and organs get the extra load. In time this can contribute to weakness, injury, pain, and the inability to perform or even tolerate the activities that we enjoy.
To illustrate this concept, let's go back to the soda can. In the video, you will first see a full soda can and its ability to tolerate force as opposed to an empty can.
In slow motion, you can see that when one side of the can begins to fail, increasing the downward force of stepping onto the can collapses the entire structure. This is the result of weakness of the core muscles being unable to handle the load placed on them. Now this crushing effect does not happen to such an extreme to our spines on a day to day basis.
However, there are micro traumas that happen and these can eventually add up. When the force is going unchecked through the spine over time, this can contribute to low back pain and injury. This can present in the form of arthritis, herniated discs, sciatica, back hip, and even knee pain.
Now you may be thinking this is all important for sure. But what about exercising my core to give me a flat stomach? Well, when the core muscles become stronger, they will in fact pull your stomach in due to the improved tone. So yes, a stronger core can improve the appearance of your belly.
So, that is it in a nutshell. Good core muscle strength allows us to safely and successfully tolerate the many things we need and want to do in our lives, as well as to keep us out of pain.
It has nothing to do with how flat your stomach is or how many sit ups you can do. You do not need to be an athlete or have a lot of equipment to strengthen and maintain your core strength. Your actually do not even need to sweat!
There are specific, targeted core strengthening exercises that you can do in your own home that train your core muscles to activate properly. This allows you to have better strength, endurance, and mobility.
You want to try 3 simple exercises to gently activate your core? Check out these.
Strengthening your core muscles does not need to be an overwhelming or scary prospect. Although it does take work on your part, it is not as difficult as you may think. So, do not be intimidated if you want to start a core strengthening program.
Speak with a physical therapist to get you started. If you are interested in beginning a program on your own, my Core Confidence Clinic video course is a great place to start. I designed it for people who have low back pain, so you can be sure that it is safe and not too advanced to begin your strengthening journey.
I hope this helped to clarify the role and importance of core muscle strength and that you feel inspired to begin a program of you own.
Stay Well & Feel Good,
Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
Hi! I am Dr. Kim MacDonald. I am a physical therapist who specializes in empowering my patients to optimize how they move their bodies and improve their ability to do the things they love regardless of age, experience, or capabilities.
My experience in the health care field allows me to teach the tools you need to ensure that you are working safely to improve your pain and maximize your physical potential.
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