Strengthening and Protecting Your Core Muscles
The Core Muscles
- Strengthening—Back injuries often result from weak trunk muscles. "But, by strengthening the core, your spine will be more stable and you'll have less risk of herniation or a bulging disc," says Dale Huff, RD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
- Balancing—Sports that involve repetitive motions that stress the two sides of your body differently—like golf or tennis—can lead to imbalances. Since core training works all of your major muscle groups, such imbalances can be minimized.
- Coordinating—Strong core muscles help your extremities to work in conjunction with the rest of your body. So when you are teeing off or serving, muscles throughout your body contribute to the effort and cushion the strain on your joints.
- Baseball and softball—The best throw starts with your legs. According to Huff, strong core muscles help transfer energy from your legs through your trunk and arms and into the throw.
- Basketball—A strong core provides stability and balance to help endure the repetitive stop and go motions of basketball and improve the ability to do quick direction changes.
- Golf—Strong core muscles help correct the imbalance caused by using only one side of your body. The golf swing also relies on the ability to rotate the spine and pelvis in an integrated fashion.
- Hockey—On the ice (or on the field), hockey players spend most of their time bent at the waist and leaning over their sticks, which can strain the back. "Strong trunk muscles help stabilize the lower back," Wooldridge says.
- Racquet sports—In all racquet sports—tennis, squash, and racquetball—there's "a lot of flexion, extension, and rotation" of the trunk, explains Wooldridge. These "multi-planar" activities rely heavily on core muscle strength.
- Running—A strong core helps runners maintain good posture and balance, and avoid injury from the slight but repetitive rotation of the spine that occurs with every stride.
- Volleyball—Whether arching for a serve or lunging for a dig, volleyball players are constantly extending and flexing their spines. Strong core muscles provide a "fuller range of motion" for sports like this, Huff says.
- All activities—The more efficiently your body works the more energy you have to spend on other activities. If your core is strong you will spend less energy working on things like balance and stability, meaning you have more energy to put into your sport.
- Physio balls—"When you do a crunch or oblique twist on the ball rather than the floor, you are using many more muscles to stabilize your body," notes Wooldridge. In fact, Huff says, you get two times the abdominal activity and four times the oblique activity that you would on the floor.
- Push-ups—This basic exercise works more than your arms; holding the push-up position forces your shoulders, abdominals, and lower back muscles to work together.
- The "swimmer"—Lie on your stomach and lift one arm and the opposite leg. Hold for 10 seconds; do 8-10 repetitions. Repeat with the other arm and leg.
- Pilates—A series of exercises designed to strengthen the body from the inside out, Pilates is done on machines and mats and should be taught by a well-trained instructor. "Pilates really teaches your muscles to work together," Dunphy says.
The American Council on Exercise http://www.acefitness.org/
American Society of Exercise Physiologists http://www.asep.org/
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology http://www.csep.ca/
Healthy Canadians http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/
McCamey K, Evans P. Low back pain. Prim Care. 2007;34(1):71-82.
Stanos SP, McLean J, Rader L. Physical medicine rehabilitation approach to pain. Anesthesiol Clin. 2007; 25(4):721-759.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 12/2011 -
- Update Date: 12/20/2011 -