Exercises that contract the core muscles strengthen the muscles of the abdomen by contracting several other muscles simultaneously in the hips and back. In fact the scientific name for the core region is the lumbopelvic hip complex. Strengthening weak abdominal muscles results in the improvement of posture, balance, flexibility, strength and range of motion in the back and pelvis as well. Some muscles activated by core strengthening include the gluteus maximus and medius, bilateral rectus abdominis, bilateral multifidis and rectus and transversus abdominis.
Some movements obviously contract the core muscles, such as bending at the waist, twisting to the side or turning to look behind you. Unknown to many, however, is that before you bend your arm, core muscles contract to stabilize your body. Core-strengthening exercises improve total body coordination because all movement either begins with abdominal muscle exertion or is supported by it. Weak abdominal muscles weaken the ability to type on a keyboard, take a bath and even make a phone call.
Chances are that if your abdominal muscles are weak, you experience back pain and limited range of motion as well. You may think that your only options for relief are undergoing surgery or taking handfuls of medications every day. Seek the advice of a physician, and if approved, try some core-strengthening exercises. A physical therapist or fitness trainer can train you in proper technique to improve spinal alignment. In addition, certain core strengtheners widen the spaces between the spinal discs which takes pressure off the nerves. This is especially effective in cases of spinal stenosis.
The benefits of core-strength training are invaluable, but starting an exercise program without proper technique can negate all of your efforts. When the transversus abdominis muscle contracts, so do all of the other core muscles. Locate it by placing your hands on the bony part of your hips. Move your hands in toward your belly button, then down toward your toes. Pull your stomach in and you will feel the transversus abdominis contract as well. Without the supervision of a trainer, you may use this technique of transversus abdominis awareness to gauge the accuracy of your core strength exercises.
Core-strengthening exercises won't burn fat overlying the abdominal muscles but they do strengthen and tone the muscles. Over time, you will feel your belly pull toward your spine naturally without extra effort during daily routines. One exercise that requires no equipment or gym membership is the bridge. To do it, lie on your back and bend your knees so that they point toward the ceiling. Do not arch your back or press it into the floor. Your spine should remain in a neutral position. Pull your stomach into toward your navel and lift your hip off the ground. Try to align your hips with your knees and shoulders. Hold your position for as long as you can before releasing back to the floor.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: Muscle Activation of Different Core Exercises
- Harvard Health Publications: The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
- WebMD: Relieve Back Pain with Core Strength Training
- SportsInjuryClinic.net: Contracting the Core Muscles
- Mayo Clinic: Core Exercises: Why You Should Strengthen Your Core Muscles