By Duane Meyer, Physical Therapist
Midwest Rehab at OCI
From elite athletes to seniors, core exercises are acknowledged as an important part of any exercise program. They not only help athletes of all calibers perform at their best, but they are an important element in helping to reduce falls and injuries for seniors.
What exactly are the core muscles? Different experts include different muscles, but they all agree that they consist of the muscles of the abdominal region, the hips, and the back, including the deep muscles of the abdomen and back. The following are the most commonly included muscles:
- rectus abdominus, front of the abdomen
- internal & external obliques, abdominal front and side
- transverse abdominus, deepest muscle of the abdominal wall located under the obliques and wrapping around the waist
- erector spinae, running from the neck to lower back
- multifidus, under the erector spinae and along the vertebral column to extend and rotate your spine
- hip flexors, front of the pelvis and upper thigh
- gluteus muscles, buttocks, outer thigh, hipadductors, the medial thigh
Benefits of core strength
Strong core muscles can help reduce back pain and improve balance, posture and athletic performance. While the abdominal muscles get most of the credit for protecting the back, it is the combination of the abdominals, the hips, and the back muscles that provide the foundation for maintaining normal posture and reducing the strain on the lower back.
Athletic performance is also improved by strong core muscles. The transfer of power to the arms and legs is provided by the stabilization of the spine. Powerful movement is accomplished from the center out, not from the extremities alone. We often hear of baseball pitchers working on leg, back, and abdominal strength to get more velocity on their pitches. The same is true for tennis players and their serve.
A strong core also improves balance and posture. Muscle imbalances and weakness can lead to poor posture which can lead to pain and injury. Muscle weakness and poor posture can also lead to poor balance, especially in seniors. In a 2013 article in Sports Medicine, studies showed that core strengthening can increase strength by 30% and balance and functional performance by 23% among seniors. Core strength training had an adherence rate of 92% based on a German study of 32 older adults, published in Gerontology in 2013.
Core strengthening is most effective when the exercises cross multiple joints and work together to stabilize the spine. A study published in March of 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that exercises that move muscles farther away from the torso, such as buttocks and deltoids (shoulder muscles) elicited greater core activation than isolated exercises. A 2012 study showed that seated dumbbell exercises had an 81% lower rectus abdominus activation rate than standing dumbbell presses. Therefore, seniors should try to perform standing exercises when possible and safe.
There are many exercises that can strengthen the core. Many of them can be performed at home with little or no equipment. Abdominal bracing is a key element of core strengthening. To correctly brace, you should attempt to pull your navel back to your spine. This primarily recruits the transverse abdominus. You should avoid holding your breath when performing abdominal bracing and strengthening exercises. A core strengthening program should contain elements of spinal flexion, rotation, extension, and stability.
Pictures and instructions abound on the internet for core strengthening programs. However, you should check with your physician or physical therapist before beginning a new exercise program. Not all exercises are appropriate for every individual and every condition. Seniors with osteoporosis need to be especially careful with flexion and rotation exercises. Our staff is available to work with you on developing a program specific to your abilities and needs—call our office today to schedule a consultation: (217) 547-9108.
Duane received his physical therapy degree from the University of Iowa. Duane has worked in hospital and private practice settings for more than 30 years. His clinical interests are primarily in orthopedics and neuromuscular disorders.
This article was published in the July-September 2014 edition of ”FYI from OCI”, a quarterly publication created by the Orthopedic Center of Illinois. To see the full publication, click HERE.