If you can swiftly run a 5K but struggle doing planks and push-ups or suffer from back pain, it might be time to build your core strength.
Even if you can kill it with your cardio, you still need a strong core to help reduce your risk for injury.
Now this does not mean you should trade cardio for core. Running, walking, bike riding, swimming and gym cardio like elliptical machines are still the best way to help reduce the risk of heart and vascular disease.
But adding core work to your workout has important benefits.
Why Should You Strengthen Your Core?
“Having a weak core can affect balance, posture, mobility and overall strength,” said Julio Gonzalez, MD, a specialist in sports medicine. ”These things can increase the risk of all types of injuries and can also affect sports performance.”
But building core strength isn’t just for athletes and weekend warriors. Dr. Gonzalez says it also helps prevent everyday injuries that can happen from falls, basic chores like laundry or carrying groceries, and job-related activities.
Bending over to tie your shoes may seem like a simple task, but your core muscles are hard at work.
Even a desk job puts your muscles to use. Those conference calls and hours in front of a computer can take their toll if you have poor posture from a weak core.
Later in life, as we have a decline in muscle strength and bone density, a program of core strength training can improve balance and spine mobility. This helps to protect against falls that can lead to serious injuries.
What Exactly Is Your Core?
“Your core refers to a set of trunk muscles that primarily serves to stabilize and transfer forces between the upper and lower extremities,” Dr. Gonzalez said.
The 29 pairs of muscles of the back, stomach and hips can help you stand up straight, transfer energy and distribute your weight. Some fitness experts refer to your core muscles as your “center of power” or your “muscular box.”
Working on core strength involves any muscle that helps you maintain a neutral spine. There are three natural curves in a healthy spine. The neutral alignment of these curves help to protect from excessive stress or strain.
Working your core isn’t just about doing crunches for your abs. You need to engage the deeper group of muscles in the “inner core.” That includes the diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidus and transverse abdominal muscles.
It may be more difficult for women to activate their inner core muscles, due to anatomy or the effects of pregnancy. But men can also have a hard time. Pelvic floor weakness in both men and women can lead to pain in the lower back, hips and knees.
The bottom line: Using and building your core muscles — especially the inner core — helps you prevent injury, improve your cardiovascular health and perform daily activities.
Sources: 5 Core Workouts for Stronger Running, Runner’s World, Nov. 7 2016; Mayo Clinic, 2014; The real-world benefits of strengthening your core, Harvard Health Publications, 2012; Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, 2016; Reality Check: Are Planks Really the Best Core Exercise?, American Council on Fitness