Friday, January 22, 2010

Importance of Good Core Muscles

Core conditioning and abdominal conditioning have become synonymous in recent years but the abdominal muscles alone are over-rated when it comes to real core strength or conditioning. In reality, the abdominal muscles have very limited and specific action. The "core" actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis and run the entire length of the torso. These muscles stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder and provide a solid foundation for movement in the extremities. Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all these muscle groups to be effective. The muscles of the core make it possible to stand upright and move on two feet. These muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. A strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and protects the back.

What are the Core Muscles?
The list of muscles that make up the "core" is somewhat arbitrary and different experts include different muscles. In general, the muscles of the core run the length of the trunk and torso; and when they contract they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support. We are then able to generate powerful movements of the extremities. The following list includes the most commonly identified core muscles as well as the lesser known groups. The goal of core stability is to maintain a solid, foundation and transfer energy from the center of the body out to the limbs. Muscles that accomplish this goal include:

  • Rectus Abdominis - located along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the "six-pack" due to it's appearance in fit and thin individuals.

  • Erector Spinae- This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back.

  • Multifidus - located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine.
  • External Obliques - located on the side and front of the abdomen.
  • Internal Obliques - located under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.
  • Transverse Abdominis (TVA) - located under the obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.

  • Hip Flexors - located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh. The muscles that make up the hip flexors include:
•psoas major
•rectus femoris

  • Gluteus medius and minimus - located at the side of the hip
  • Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis - located in the back of the hip and upper thigh leg.

  • Hip adductors - located at medial thigh.
Strengthening the Core Reduces Back Pain
Abdominals get all the credit for protecting the back and being the foundation of strength, but they are only a small part of what makes up the core. In fact, it is weak and unbalanced core muscles that are linked to low back pain. Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.

Core Strength Training and Athletic Performance
Because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the neck and shoulder, they allow the transfer of powerful movements of the arms and legs. All powerful movements originate from the center of the body out, and never from the limbs alone. Before any powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the limbs, the spine must be solid and stable and the more stable the core, the most powerful the extremities can contract.

Training the muscles of the core also corrects postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness - that is, fitness that is essential to both daily living and regular activities.

Core strengthening exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles contract at the same time, multi joint movements are performed and stabilization of the spine is monitored.

Strengthening the Core Muscles
There are many exercises that will strengthen the core, as well as exercise equipment that will aid this training. Some of the best products for developing core strength include:

•Medicine Balls
•Stability Balls
•Balance Products such as the Bosu Ball, balance boards, wobble boards and others

No Equipment Core Strength Exercises
Body weight exercises are very effective for developing core strength. They are also the type of exercises many athletes and coaches rely on for regular core training. They include:

•Abdominal Bracing
This is the main technique used during core exercise training. It refers to the contraction of the of the abdominal muscles. To correctly brace, you should attempt to pull your navel back in toward your spine. This action primarily recruits transverse abdominus. Be careful not to hold your breath – you should be able to breathe evenly while bracing.

•Plank Exercise: Start Position | Finish Position
•Side Plank Exercise: Start Position | Finish Position
•The Basic Push Up
•Push Ups
•Back Bridge
•Hip Lift
•Russian Twists
•Side Lunges
•Back Extensions

Other exercises that develop core strength include exercises on a stability ball, work with medicine balls, wobble boards and Pilate's exercise programs. Yoga is also an excellent way for athletes to build core strength. For a simple core strength program you can begin with push-ups and crunches, but work with a trainer to find the exercises that work best for you.

Working Your Core
What does it mean when someone says that we should be "working our core?" and why is this important?

1. This means that as you incorporate stretching and muscle strengthening exercises in your routine, you take particular focus on the muscles of the upper and front part of the trunk, including the abdominal and trunk muscles.
This activity will begin to work the "love handle" area getting rid of muffin top.

2. It will help tone and strenghten your muscles, exercising your core muscles will strengthen and tone your frame while stretching the hip flexors and the muscles on the front of the thighs

3. Improves physical performance
Exercising the core muscles with slow and precise stretching is just as effective in relieving stiffness and enhances flexibility. Once the flexibility of a person has improved, it follows that he/she will be able to perform his physical activities to a higher level and will be more comfortable doing so.

4. Working the core will help to alleviate sore aching muscles.
Static or slow stretching for core muscles is best for the muscles it's connective tissues. And because it employs slow stretches only, it will not cause any soreness, as do the quick, bouncing exercises that rely on jerky muscle contraction.

5. Lengthen muscles and avoid unbalanced footing as you get older.

Core muscle exercises lengthen the muscles that have contracted as a result of pain. It also prevents pain from vigorous exercise if they are included at the end of each workout.

Health and fitness experts highly recommend starting core work out immediately and repeating the routine at least 2 times a week. The process can be done after the workout or even during the activity, for about 10 to 20 minutes only.

Core muscles are absolutely important in determining the good posture of the body. Strengthening them can absolutely eliminate those nuisances of back pains.

When someone says that they want to flatten their belly or reduce the fat in their lower stomach area (pouch), they will often make the mistake of only working their front ab muscle group. Although this will help to tone and tighten the ab area it put the body out of balance, which can cause problems later on in life. However, if when you are working your front abs you also do stretches and muscle strengthening exercises that work your side and back muscles you will see an all around flattening and shaping.

This will not only give you more of a V shape but it will also help to hold your stomach flat

There are many exercises that will help to build you core muscles. Here are just a few of the most popular.
  • Push-ups
  • Bench Press
  • Push- aways
  • Oblique V-up
  • Two handed wood chop
  • The bridge
  • Side jackknife
  • Swimmers backstroke
  • Side crunch
  • Reverse crunch
  • The stick crunch
  • V- spread toe touch
  • The reverse bicycle - which also happens to be the best belly flattener- better than standard crunches
If you currently work out with a Swiss ball, you can incorporate many of these exercises with your ball. Remember too, that when using your Swiss ball for some workouts you want to inflate it to full capacity, while other times you only want to fill it to 85% full and others only 70%.

Be sure to read you Swiss ball instructions to see when you want to change the inflation percentages

How to Train Your Core Muscle Group
The core has been defined as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex or (LPHC). It is where the body's center of gravity is located and from where all movement originates. Proper recruitment of these muscles not only ensures proper acceleration, deceleration and stabilization during exercise, but also aides in preventing possible injuries.

The core or LPHC is made up of two categories of muscle groups.
1) the stabilization system-inside muscle group
2) the movement system-outside muscle group
The stabilization system is responsible for the stability of the LPHC and includes the transverse abs, internal obliques, lumbar, pelvic muscles, diaphragm. The movement system consist of the lats, hamstrings, hip adductors, hip abductors, rectus absominus, and external obliques.

When traing the core it is important to start from the inside out. In other words train the stabilization system before starting the external system. You need the foundation before you can build the walls. having a strang stabilization system is necessary in order to build and support the strong and firm movement system.

There are a series of exercise that work well for strengthening the core and they are broken down into which group of muscles you they will target.

1) Hip Extension
2) Hip Abduction
3) Ball Bridge
4) Prone Iso-ab
5) Side lying Iso-ab
1) Back extension
2) Reverse bench crunch
3) Reverse bench crunch with rotation
4) Ball Crunch
5) Cable rotation
6) Cable lift
These exercises should be performed with the proper drawing-in motion(navel drawn in to spine) and in a controlled fashion. They should be performed anywhere from once a week to every workout each week

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