When we talk about “the core” of the body, we are typically referencing the musculature around the abdomen and low back. These muscles consist of the abdominal muscles (rectus abdomini, internal obliques, external obliques, and transversi) and the muscles of the back (lattisimus dorsi, serratus posterior inferior muscles, erector spinae, multifidi, interspinalis muscles, lateral intertransversi muscles, quadratus lumborum, and to some degree the iliopsoas).
Strengthening the core has become a fairly popular mantra these days. Many of us are walking around with poor posture and a fair amount of dysfunction as a result of poor core stability. A weak core leaves one susceptible to a host of joint and disc injuries as well as overly tight butt and leg and muscles. In contrast, a strong core can prevent a host of back injuries.
The word strength, however, needs some clarification in the context of strengthening the core. When most people think of strengthening muscles, they picture muscles moving against significant resistance like lifting weights or power movement against gravity or some other force. These types of exercises can actually be detrimental to the core muscles and increase the risk of injury to the spine. Coordinating the movement of all of these muscles is what is most beneficial.
I mentioned in my last article that postural muscles are slow twitch muscles designed for endurance. They need to be strong enough to hold you up all day. Strength, in this case, does not come from bigger muscle fibers but from having all of the muscles firing in a controlled and proper order. For example, if you lift a box, ideally your abdominal muscle and your spinal muscle would contract at the same time to stabilize the body so the shoulder and arms and hips and leg muscles can utilize their power to lift it. What often happens is that core muscles lay dormant until a significant strain forces them to respond. So, when you lift a box, you first engage your back muscles until you are upright then, if you go past vertical, the abdominal muscles will engage. Then, they will fire back and forth while they try to find a semblance of stability.
I bring this all to your attention to encourage you to strengthen your core appropriately. Exercises that promote coordinated movement like yoga, pilates, and modified exercises from yoga can make a huge difference. It can take time to build coordination and it takes a consistent effort. In the following videos, I demonstrate four very useful exercises for coordinating core muscles and therefore, strengthening it.