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Strengthening and Protecting Your Core Muscles
Core muscles are more than just abs. They help support and move your spine, pelvis, rib cage, and hips.
Strong core muscles that work together help with all movements from sports to basic functions of daily life. A strong core can help prevent injuries, improve balance, and promote muscle development.
The Core Muscles
Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles. It also includes all the muscles of the lower back and shoulders, the obliques, pelvic muscles, gluteal muscles, and hamstrings. Working one or one isolated group of muscles is not enough to maximize core strength. You will need to work several muscle groups together.
No one is ever fully safe from injury. But strong core muscles are thought to lower the risk in both sports and routine activities, like picking up a child. Weak core muscles may also be related to chronic back pain.
Avoiding injury means:
- Strengthening—Back injuries often result from weak trunk muscles. A strong core leads to a stable spine. This may lower the risk of back problems.
- Balancing—Sports like golf and tennis involve repetitive motions that stress the two sides of your body differently. This can lead to imbalances. Core training can help because it works all of your major muscle groups.
- Coordinating—Strong core muscles help your limbs work with the rest of your body. So when you are teeing off or serving, muscles throughout your body can contribute.
Core strength plays a role in many sports:
- Baseball and softball—The best throw starts with your legs. 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 for stop and go motions and helps with 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 rotating the spine and pelvis together.
- Hockey—Ice and field hockey players spend most of their time bent at the waist and leaning over their sticks. This can strain the back. A strong trunk can help stabilize the lower back.
- Racquet sports—Racquet sports like tennis, squash, and racquetball use flexion, extension, and trunk rotation. This requires core muscle strength.
- Running—A strong core helps runners have good posture and balance. This helps them avoid injury when they rotate at the spine with every stride.
- Volleyball—Volleyball players extend and flex their spines when they arch for a serve or lunge for a dig. Strong core muscles give them fuller range of motion.
- All activities—You will have more energy to spend on all activities when you core works as it should. You'll spend less energy working on balance and stability. This will give you more energy to put into your sport.
There are many ways to strengthen your core. Talk to a certified trainer to see which is best for you and to make sure you are doing it right. Aim to work your core three times a week for at least 15 minutes or more.
- Stability ball—You are using more muscles to stabilize your body when you do a crunch or oblique twist on a stability ball.
- Push-ups—Push ups work more than your arms. They force 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 to 10 repetitions. Repeat with the other arm and leg.
- Pilates—Pilates are exercises that strengthen the body from the inside out. They are done on machines and mats. They should be taught by a well-trained instructor.
American Council on Exercise
American Society of Exercise Physiologists
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
Muscles of the core. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/blog/3562/muscles-of-the-core. Accessed October 11, 2021.
Phillips E. Build your core muscles for a healthier, more active future. Harvard Health website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/build-your-core-muscles-for-a-healthier-more-active-future-201212285698. Accessed October 11, 2021.
Rethinking core training. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/1729/rethinking-core-training/. Accessed October 11, 2021.
Rivera CE. Core and lumbopelvic stabilization in runners. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2016;27(1):319-337.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
- Review Date: 10/2021
- Update Date: 10/11/2021