Core Exercise: Where Do I Start?

Over the past couple of weeks we have talked about different ways to look at balance and our core, and in our exercise of the week section some different exercises that can help you with core control and stability.  There are many different choices of exercises and activities to work on our core and many people get confused on where to start.  So, they pick exercises somewhat randomly that they read about or learn from others.  Today I am going to talk about some different ways to find a starting point.

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First we need to define what core control and stability are.  In an ideal world our core muscles need to control our spine during movement.  When we do athletic or other physical activities such as lifting, our spine should have controlled movement while the limbs move around a stable spine.  This keeps our spine in safer positions when we load it and also allows efficient transfer of energy from our lower body to our upper body.  Our spine should be able to bend and rotate when we need it to, but when we are generating power we should be using our big hip and leg muscles to generate that power and transfer that power through our spine to our upper body.  When we aren’t stable we can drop that power and then our spinal muscles will try to make up for it which can cause issues.

This principal of spinal stability while our limbs move drives how we think core exercise should look.  If you are doing sit ups or spine extension or rotation machines you are training your core muscles for movement strength.  You are bending or twisting your spine rather than training it to maintain stability.  This may be inefficient training for you as well as hard on the joints and discs in your spine.

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What we want to accomplish is to pick exercises that require you to use your your core to control your spine while you move around it.   Some examples of these are bird dogs, bridging, chopping and lifting,  push ups, squatting, and dead lifting among many others.  There are literally infinite ways to do this.

The question is where to start.  The first thing to know is at what level you are at.  Form is important and if you are at too high a level you will alter your movement patterns to accomplish a movement, just like you would cheat in the weight room if you have too much weight.  There are different ways to vary the difficulty of an activity.  One way is by position.  Another is by resistance or assistance.

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For body position there are 4 different basic positions we can assume which require different challenges.

  1. Non weight bearing (lying down)
  2. Quadruped (on hands and knees)
  3. Kneeling
  4. Standing

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Each position is more difficult to maintain proper form and requires more stability than then the previous.  If you are unable to stabilize in a non weight bearing position you will have increasing difficulty in a more difficult position.  That is why we test rolling which we talked about last week.  Rolling is non weight bearing, so if you can’t roll well you need to work on this for a bit before you try to do a bird dog progression or kneeling chops for example.

The other way to vary exercises is with resistance or assistance.  You can see how you do in a position, say kneeling, with no resistance.  Make a diagonal pattern with your arms for example.  If this is challenging to maintain balance and posture you should work there.  If it is easy you can add weight or resistance.  If no resistance is too challenging in an activity, say a squat, you can add assistance.  An example would be a band attached high above that would help you come up and down taking some of your body weight.  Again there are infinite ways to challenge your system.  The important thing is to find activities that challenge your specific weakness, and do them at the right level of challenge.

If you have questions about exercise feel free to contact us in Avon, CO at 970-949-9966 or Eagle, CO at 970-376-8025.

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