Core strength is widely considered to be a critical means of back pain prevention. What do you need to know about it?
- Core vs. Abdominals: Many people confuse the terms core and abdominals. In reality, your abdominal muscles are just one component of your core, which includes the muscles in your abdomen, low back, pelvis and hips. Together they provide a strong postural foundation by bending the spine forward and backward, twisting it to each side, and rotating and moving the pelvis and legs inward and outward, forward and backward.
- Core Strength vs. Core Stability: For all the hype regarding core strength, what the average back pain sufferer needs is actually core stability. What is the difference? Think of absolute strength as the amount you could lift for a few seconds, like an Olympic power lifter. Stability is the ability to maintain a low level workload for a long time. Everyone needs core stability. If you are an athlete playing a sport that requires power or rapid acceleration (like football, soccer, or hockey), or if you do physical labor for your job, you also need core strength.
- Banish Crunches: You (and your personal trainer) may focus on working your abdominal muscles in endless crunches, believing they will somehow protect your back. That’s about as helpful as working on your biceps to protect your triceps. It doesn’t work. Crunches do temporarily relax your back muscles, but long-term they also reinforce the harmful Purple Panther posture. Banish crunches from your back pain prevention exercises.
- The Jury is Out on Back Extensions: Recently, much of the back pain prevention focus has moved to low back strength. That focus is based on a small pilot study completed in the early 1980s that revealed a trend toward less repeat back pain after a few people performed sustained static back extensions. No further published research convincingly supports this theory, however.
- Focus on Coordinated Core Movement: The most helpful approach to core stability is a coordinated one. Focus on exercises that encourage your core muscles to:
- Maintain moderate levels of force,
- In functional postures,
- For prolonged periods of time,
- Without significant fatigue.
TFB’s Stabilize It! Program does just that, focusing on coordinated, stable core movements with three tailored exercise series: one for everyday warriors, one for athletes, and one for complete core stability. Get it here.