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Your Health Today
man doing push ups on fitness ball

A strong core can:

bullettighten your abdomen
bulletreduce back pain
bulletsupport your spine
bulletimprove balance

Focus on Your Core Strength

Trying to get fit? Don’t just focus on walking or running or even lifting weights.



“Your overall fitness plan should include your entire body, instead of one or two key areas,” says Debbie Daugherty, AAFA, a certified group fitness instructor at St. Anthony’s, who has taught fitness and dance classes for more than 30 years. “Among the best exercises are those that focus on the core.”

The core is about more than just your stomach. Core muscles extend deep into the abs and back, attaching to the spine or pelvis. The majority of your movements begin with these muscles. They also are critical for helping maintain balance and stability, as well as preventing injuries. In a 2007 study reported in the Journal of Occupational Medicine, researchers found a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries (down 62%) and lost work time (down 42%) over a one-year period, in a group of 433 Arizona firefighters, after implementing a core strengthening, flexibility and functional movement fitness program.

Proper form is critical, so it may be helpful to consult a certified trainer or therapist to ensure you are tightening and strengthening the right muscles while protecting your back and spine. “That’s important,” stresses Daugherty. “Improper form can result in swelling, tenderness or back pain and leave you prone to injury. At the very least, take time to watch your form in a mirror to ensure a straight spine.

"Building core strength improves performance in other sports and protects against injury in both daily and work activities,” she says. If you like group classes, yoga and pilates both emphasize core strength.

Many fitness instructors also use equipment such as stability balls, get-fit disks, BOSU balls and wobble boards. These guarantee more interesting core-strengthening routines.

“The core is your ‘powerhouse,’” Daugherty says. “Protect it, strengthen it, and it can play an integral role in your overall health and wellness.”

Examples of core exercises

Core exercises can be done with or without simple equipment. Getting started examples include:

Plank example

Bridge example

Stability Ball Example

Planks

Try these on a flat surface and aim for holding a plank in a neutral (flat, not curved) spine position for 30 seconds to one minute. More fit individuals can progress to one-armed planks or side planks. Caution: Don’t let your stomach drop, causing a curved spine. Keep those stomach muscles tight!

Bridges

Beginners can start on their backs with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your buttocks and hips.Your abdominal muscles should be tight. Again, aim for a neutral spine position, with knees, hips, and shoulders all in a line. Caution: Make sure your butt doesn't sag down.

Stability Ball Exercises

This simple exercise ball is a great fitness tool. Make sure you buy the correct size (one that will allow for a 90-degree knee bend when sitting on the ball). Lie with your back on the ball and feet flat on the floor. Slowly roll off the ball so that just your back and shoulders remain on the ball. As you get better, roll further so that only the shoulders are on the ball. To increase difficulty, you can add a small object between your knees to squeeze during the exercise or you can lift arm weights in a controlled manner. Try to roll out 5-10 times during each session.

St. Anthony's Medical Center logo

For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.

Working as trusted partners, the physicians and employees of St. Anthony's Health System will deliver care distinguished by its demonstrated quality and personalized service. We will be visibly engaged in improving the health and well­ being of the communities we serve in South County and beyond. We will stand together, proud to set the standard for independent community health systems.