What is the core?
It is all the muscles in your torso, from your shoulders to your hips, People usually think of the core as your “6 pack”, technically called the rectus abdominis. But that is only 1 muscle among many. The main job of your “6 pack” is to curl your trunk forward to help you sit up. But much more is required of your core/torso than just to sit up.
Arguably the most important role of the core if working correctly is to stabilize. For those that work out, a strong core helps to stabilize your trunk so that when doing a plank or push up your back doesn’t sag, or allows you to increase the weight in your deadlift without increasing back pain. When working correctly your core stabilizes to resist excessive rotational forces caused by general reciprocal arm and leg movement seen in walking/running/kicking/jumping/swimming/shoveling etc. It can also provide a strong base to allow your arms and legs to push/pull against resistance effectively. Therefore a strong core is essential to any athlete, especially to increase performance speed and power and reduce risk of injury.
So only athletes need a strong core?
An athlete might have higher demands required of the core, however every person who moves and performs daily tasks needs an active, strong core to prevent injuries. For example, every day tasks require a stable trunk to allow a person to move furniture, shovel snow, and pull your heavy blankets while making your bed. Just as a core stabilizes the trunk of a runner, it also stabilizes the trunk of any person while they’re walking no matter if its across the room, or go for a longer walk around the neighborhood.
What happens if I have a weak core?
Without a strong muscular core, stability will come from another source. Such as from your spine, or non stability muscles which will over compensate for an inadequate core. This often results with pain and injury, most often in your back, but also in your hips or lower legs. This can result from taking you out of the game or as you age it will make it more difficult to get out of bed or get up from the toilet.
What can I do?
If you have a low activity level, the first thing you can do is get up and start moving, start going on regular walks. The more you sit the less is required of your core, and the weaker it gets.
Start strengthening your core with 2 simple activities.
The goal is to brace your stomach so as to keep your trunk as straight as possible. Avoid rounding your back or letting it sag. To make sure you are doing it effectively do it in front of your mirror.
The goal is to keep your core tense so that back is flat and trunk is still as you slowly march your feet up and down.
If you have persistent pain that it isn’t reduced or worsens while playing sport or with every day tasks, then it is time to see your physician or trusted physical therapist.