Core Strength Preventative healthcare

At Wellwest we are passionate about preventative healthcare and for that reason we have put together this short introductory document about Core Strength. Please also see Wellrehab our Pilates and Physio specialists.

Core Strength is not a new idea, but there is a bewildering array of techniques and machines out there to improve it. We will go through some basic practical advice about how to improve your Core Strength, which will ultimately help you look after your back and spine.

We will be looking at questions like:
1. What is Core Strength and why is it important?
2. What basic stuff you can you do to improve it?

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Well, simply put when people talk about the core they are referring to a series of muscles that wrap around the abdomen and hold the body upright through what could be considered a series of belts or straps. Think of a wine barrel around your middle; if you take away one of the metal straps holding the wooden pieces together then the structural strength and integrity of the whole structure falls apart.

This is true of your body also, if you have weakened internal belts holding everything together then other muscles have to do jobs they are not designed for. Without these belts the back is left to do a lot of the work in lifting, twisting and other normal everyday movements on its own. This can make the back and its associated structures prone to serious injury.

I am not going to confuse everything by talking about all of the details to do with which muscles do what and so on. But I think it is important to have a basic understanding of how these structures work to support the body to know how to strengthen them. The muscles in the body can be divided into 3 main groups:

Local Stabilisers
  • Very small muscles; between joints
  • Always on, background ‘buzz’
  • ‘Background buzz’ contraction
Global Stabilisers
  • Medium sized muscles
  • Control rate of movement; guide and brake
Global Mobilisers
  • Large sized muscles
  • Give power to movement

So to get these different types of muscles to work properly obviously requires an integrated approach. There is a huge array of exercises for the Core but the aim of this document is to just get you doing some basic, easy stuff that anyone can put into their busy, everyday lives.

I will now describe a few simple exercises to turn on these different groups of muscles. These are very basic exercises and for those who wish to take this further, please feel free to call us and we will happily make a time to fully assess your individual needs and work out the best approach.

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So let’s start with the beginning; the Local Stabilisers. To get them to turn on we need to do slow movements and do static holds with a load of less than 30%. You should complete 3 x 10 second holds per day.

In fact, it is pointless to go to the gym and do what might be a maximum of 10 minutes at the end of a session doing sit-ups, which after all mainly target Global Stabiliser muscles. This is especially true if you spend the remainder of the day slumped at a chair at work, with everything turned off.

The local stabilisers are also linked to posture, and we shall show the more ideal posture to help with this. The key here is reengaging that ‘mind –tummy’ link. One of the most important Local Stabilisers is the Transverse Abdominus (TVA). This muscle group, as we talked about before, runs around the middle like a series of belts to hold us up.

From here you can practice turning these on and off while sitting or doing normal activities like waiting in a supermarket queue.

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The trick here is to think about turning these muscles 30% throughout the day, a background ‘buzz’ remember. It is not powerful contractions we are going for but really focussing your attention on an area to improve that ‘mind-tummy’ link. You should complete 3 x 10 second holds per day.

You won’t be able to do this all day long, because you will fatigue. Similarly, you won’t be able to adopt the perfect posture all day long as you will get worn out especially if your body is stiff or in pain. But what we are aiming for is that maybe a 10% improvement on what you have happening at the moment. This is often enough to make a big change for the body.

From here you can do a number of static hold positions, like the well known ‘plank’ from Pilates. But these require more in-depth supervision and explanation which would be better done on an individual basis. It is important to take into account medical history and any previous history of injury as it is very easy to hurt yourself with some of these exercises.

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Again there are a huge array of exercises for this area but what we are aiming for are slow, controlled movements which require heaps of braking and control, which would ultimately come from the Global Stabilisers. You can use more than the 30% we talked about for the Local Stabilisers, but be aware that you will probably feel the pain the next day, not while you are doing the exercise. We like to start people on a very basic one that is fairly safe on the back.

As we said before the Global Stabilisers are the biggest set of muscles responsible for explosive power. To train these muscles we have to use a combination of movement and resistance training.

Think about it this way, there are some basic movements that the body was designed for at a primal level, like push, pull, bend, squat, twist and so on. These movements engage groups of muscles altogether, and this is more how the body works in real life. So to be strong for the demands of real life it is important to train so called ‘chains’ of muscles rather than isolate certain ones.

This is perhaps unlike traditional gym work which focuses on things like strengthening individual muscles e.g. to strengthen the arm you train the Biceps muscle, by lifting weight in a certain range of motion. However, it should be said isolation training is not a waste of time especially for those that are injured or have particular training objectives.

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It is important to remember that you don’t go to the gym once and expect to be fit for the rest of your life. Core Strength can take a few weeks to build and of course lose. You have to keep at it and build on what you have done before.

It is important that you do not attempt any of these exercises if you are in any pain or have a history of serious spinal problems. If there are any problems or pain associated with these exercises please stop and call us for help. We will happily conduct a detailed assessment of where you are at and give you the right advice to help you get better.

If you would like for us to help you with other Core Strength exercises then please feel free to call. Remember, this video is only the tip of the iceberg for beginners.

Where is Wellwest?

Our Auckland Osteopaths are located at Wellwest, 31 Lincoln Road in Henderson, Waitakere, West Auckland. Call 838 0631