Down to the CORE
The core is where your body’s center of gravity is located and all movement originates.
A strong core is essential for optimum body mechanics, as it contributes to ideal length-tension relationships of muscles, movement patterns by the nervous system and joint function.
A strong and balanced core equates to neuromuscular efficiency, which allows for efficient acceleration, deceleration, and stabilization during dynamic movements, the prevention of injuries and optimum performance if you are an athlete.
There are three separate yet interdependent systems that help to define the core:
Local Stabilization System
Local stabilizers are muscles that attach directly to vertebrae. These muscles consist primarily of slow twitch type I fibers, meaning they are best suited for endurance, as well as limiting excessive compressive, shear, and rotational forces between vertebrae.
The primary muscles that make up local stabilization system include transverse abdominis, internal obliques, multifidus, pelvic floor musculature, and diaphragm.
Global Stabilization System
Muscles of global stabilization system attach from pelvis to the spine. These transfer loads between the upper extremity and lower extremity, provide stability between the pelvis and spine, and provide stabilization during functional movements.
The primary muscles that make up global stabilization system include quadratus lumborum, psoas major, external obliques, portions of the internal oblique, rectus abdominis, gluteus medius, and adductor complex.
The movement system includes muscles that attach the spine and/or pelvis to the extremities. These muscles are primarily responsible for concentric force production and eccentric deceleration during dynamic activities. Primary muscles that make up movement system include latissimus dorsi, hip flexors, hamstring complex, and quadriceps.
Together, all the muscles within each system provide dynamic stabilization and neuromuscular control of the entire core.
In isolation, these muscles do not effectively achieve stabilization of the core; rather it is through their synergistic interdependent functioning that they enhance stability and neuromuscular control.
Training the core should start with the stabilization system in order to provide the foundation for the movement system muscles.
Few people have developed their local stabilization muscles required for intervertebral stabilization. If the movement system musculature of the core is strong and the local stabilization system is weak, the nervous system senses imbalance and compensation ensues.
A weak core can lead to inefficient movement and predictable patterns of pain and injury.
Core Stabilization Training
Individuals with chronic LBP have decreased activation of certain muscles or muscle groups, including the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, pelvic floor muscles, multifius, diaphragm, and deep erector spinae. There is also decreased muscular endurance.
Studies support the role of core training in prevention and rehabilitation of lower back pain.
Core stabilization exercises have been shown to restore size, activation, and endurance of the multifidus(a deep spine muscle) in individuals with lower back pain.
Exercise programs that include specific core stabilization training tend to be more effective than therapy (PT and chiropractic) alone.
Draw and Brace
Research has shown that there are two maneuvers that are effective in engaging the core.
Drawing-in Maneuver – Used to recruit the local core stabilizers by drawing the navel in toward the spine. This is helpful for individual with low back pain or who are just starting an exercise program and need a foundation of stabilization endurance.
Bracing – Occurs when you simultaneously contract the abdominal, lower back, and buttock muscles which results in stimulating muscular endurance of the global and local musculature.
Many traditional exercises thought to strengthen the core, such as sit-ups, have been shown to increase pressure on discs to dangerous levels.
Designing a Core Training Program
The goal of core training is to develop optimal levels of neuromuscular efficiency, stability and functional strength.
Neurological adaptations become the focus of programing instead of absolute strength gains. In addition, increasing proprioceptive (position sense) demand is more important than increasing external resistance.
Quality of movement should be stressed over quantity.
There are three levels core training: Stabilization, Strength and Power
Core-Stabilization Training involves little motion through the spine and pelvis and is designed to improve neuromuscular efficiency and intervertebral stability. Individuals perform exercises with minimal movement, while focusing on drawing-in and then bracing.
Core Strength involve more dynamic eccentric and concentric movements of the spine throughout full range of motion, while performing the activation techniques learned in core-stabilization training. Specificity, speed, and neural demands are progressed at this level.
Core Power improves the rate of force production of core musculature and prepares an individual to dynamically stabilize and generate force at more functionally applicable speeds. Rotational chest pass, medicine ball pullover throw, front medicine oblique throw and soccer throw are examples.
Core musculature helps protect the spine from harmful forces that occur during functional activities.
Exercises for the core are designed to increase stabilization, strength, power, muscle endurance, and neuromuscular control.
The programming must be systematic, progressive, activity or goal-specific, integrated, and proprioceptively challenging.
Proper core strengthening could be the answer to your chronic pain or the key to optimum athletic performance.