Search site

Core strength; over the last ten years you may have noticed that this phrase has become a part of our everyday lexicon. But what exactly is ‘core strength’ and what is ‘core control’? Today, Capital Physio’s pro physiotherapist Emily Cox explains the two terms and the difference between them. She also shares her favourite effective exercises to work on strengthening your own core. Prepare to feel your abs work!

What is my core’?

The term ‘core’ gets thrown around a lot in the health and fitness industry. Ever wondered what it actually refers to? Well, ‘core’ is an umbrella term which describes the structures that form the lumbo-pelvic control unit. This unit consists of the following muscles:

  • Rectus abdominus: this is the muscle that allows you to bend forwards or to flex your trunk.
  • Erector Spinae: these muscles are situated on either side of your spine. They allow your trunk to bend backwards and to return to standing straight from a bent-over position. They are also known as back extensors.
  • Internal and external obliques: these muscles allow our trunk to rotate. They also allow us to bend from side to side, with the help of the erector spinae and rectus abdominus.
  • Transverse abdominus: this is a deep ‘corset’-like muscle that draws our lower abdominal area upwards and inwards.
  • Multifidus: this muscle keeps your spine stable during movement of your limbs.
  • Pelvic Floor: a group of muscles at the base of the pelvis that give you bladder and bowel control.
  • Diaphragm: the muscle responsible for expanding and contracting your chest wall to allow air into your lungs.

How the Lumbopelvic Control Unit Works

The lumbo-pelvic muscles form a box-like structure around your abdomen and pelvis (Figure 1). These muscles are activated in a co-ordinated fashion during movements such as walking, running or going up stairs. They help to keep the pelvis still and reduce the overflow of movement from your limbs into adjacent structures – the lumbar spine, hip joints and sacroiliac joints.

For co-ordinated activation, we need both strength and control in these core muscles.

If this group of muscles become weak or lose control then other structures such as ligaments, joints, nerves and smaller muscles become overloaded. Where this overload occurs is usually where you will experience pain. For example, hip or back pain can be a sign of decreased core stability and strength.

What are Core Strengthening Exercises?

Core strengthening exercises help build power within the muscle. As a result, the muscle may grow larger. Strength is gained by challenging the muscle with load, in the same way you’d increase bicep strength by increasing the weight on a dumbbell.

For optimum strengthening, aim to perform 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, 3-5 times a day.

V-Sit

Working muscles: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, multifidus, Internal and external obliques, Erector Spinae

Description: Sitting on the ground tilt backwards and bend your knees towards your chest to make a  “√” shape with your body.

  1. Progression – Add weight, Single leg extension
  2. Regression – Arms behind to support

Plank

Working muscles: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus

Description: Get in to a plank position with your forearms and toes being the only parts of your body in contact with the floor. Ensure your body is completely straight; your pelvis should be in line with your shoulders and heels. Pull your abdominals in towards your spine and create tension to support your lower back in this position. This is an isometric exercise so hold this position for the duration of the exercise.

  1. Regression – Hold for less time
  2. Progression – Single leg hip extension

Side plank

Working muscles: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, Internal and external obliques.

Description: Lie on your side with your elbow underneath you. Rise up so that you are resting on one forearm or elbow with your feet stacked on top of each other; hold this position.

  1. Regression – bring knees to ground
  2. Progression – top leg hip abduction

What are Core Control Exercises?

Core control exercises teach your muscles how and when to turn on and off. They also train your muscle to apply the correct amount of force with a changing load.

You can train the control of your muscles by the slow movement of a particular body segment whilst keeping the adjacent structures still. Think about a footballer kicking a ball; one leg keeps the body still while the other swings to kick.

The muscles which require control are turned on and off throughout the day, so these exercises should be performed little and often. A good method is to do them every time you do another daily activity. For example, when you are brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil, or before you go to bed and every time you go to the bathroom.

Table Top Toe Taps

Working muscles: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, multifidus, Internal and external obliques

Description: Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees. Keep one knee directly over your hip whilst the other foot slowly lowers to the floor to allow your toes to just touch the ground.

  1. Regression – Single leg fallouts
  2. Progression – Double leg, alternating single leg extension, bridge + leg extension

Superman plank

Working muscles: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, multifidus, Internal and external obliques, Erector Spinae

Description: Start in four point kneeling; on your hands and knees with your hips directly over knees and shoulders directly over your hands. Ensuring that your spine doesn’t move, draw your belly button in towards your spine. Slowly lift one hand forwards away from your body whilst lifting the opposite leg out and away from your body. Slowly return to the start position without moving your back or pelvis.

  1. Regression – single arm extension
  2. Progression – theraband resistance

Walking Lunges

Working muscles: rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, multifidus, Internal and external obliques.

Description: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step one foot forwards in alignment with your hip and without bringing it towards the midline. Keeping the front of your pelvis pointing forward and without arching your back, slowly lower your back knee towards the ground. You don’t have to touch the ground but as soon as you feel unsteady, pause then slowly rise back up to a standing position. Repeat with the other leg.

  1. Regression – shorter stride length
  2. Progression – theraband resistance, weights in hands

 

If you’re struggling with core strength and control then a trip to your physiotherapist can be of real value. If you think we can help you, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Click here
 to find your nearest Capital Physio clinic, where our expert team of clinicians are ready to help you with a personalised treatment programme. Any questions? Contact our friendly Holborn HQ by calling 033 0333 0435 or emailing clientcare@capitalphysio.com. You can also find us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.