If you have ever had any injuries, particularly in your lower limbs, then you have probably been advised that you need to strengthen your core in order to aid the recovery from your existing injury as well as prevent re-injury. These types of injury and advice would be extremely common in runners.
What is about our core that makes it such an integral piece of staying injury-free?
Now, before we go any further - a six-pack (actually, the Rectus Abdominis) is not necessarily indicative of a strong core. These abdominal muscles form only a small part of what we regard as our core. Beyond the six-pack, our core includes:
The Transverse Abdominis (TA) Muscle - a deep band of muscle which runs between the hips and ribs. Picture the TA being an internal corset around your internal organs. Whilst the TA muscle has multiple functions, one key function is to stabilise the spine during movements involving the arms and legs.
The Obliques - which are the muscles which run parallel with the abdominal muscles. Have you ever heard someone talking about ‘the V’ - yep, all they are really talking about is well-developed obliques. These muscles primarily aim to stabilise the body when doing lateral flexion (lateral = side; flexion = bending).
Erector Spinae - those long, easy - to - knot, muscles which run either side of the spine. These muscles are a large and intricate group of muscles which can be divided into various subcategories depending on where in the back they insert. Whilst each of these subcategories perform slightly different functions, as a whole, they all serve to support the spine and regulate the movements thereof.
The Quadratus Lumborum (QL) - the QL muscle is a deep muscle that runs from the iliac crest (think, ‘top rear of my hip bone’) and the last rib. Again, this set of muscles seeks to stabilise the spine as well as help with lateral flexion.
The Pelvic Floor - is the group of muscles at the base of our core. As with the other core muscles, the pelvic assist in stabilising the core. In addition to this, the pelvic floor works with the diaphragm to regulate the internal pressure of the body.
Hip muscles - our hip muscles are key to our mobility when walking or running and are responsible for controlling the movement of lifting your knee up. One part of the hip muscles (called the Psoas) connects to the spine and as a result, you guessed it, helps stabilise the spine.
Now that we can see just how big our ‘core’ is, the focus which it is given makes a little bit more sense. When you think about movement, it makes even more sense.
Each movement we make consists of multiple muscle groups working together - they fire individually but work together to create the movement (think about holding your arms up and doing the classic Arnie bicep curl pose - this simple movement involves our shoulder muscles, back muscles, biceps, triceps and potentially even our pectoral muscles - all that just to show off the guns!). Now make one of those muscles exceptionally weak and you would probably struggle to do pull off the classic pose.
Take something more jarring on our body such as running. With each step, we are twisting, bouncing or adjusting our spine in some way. Take one of those core muscles and weaken them - now all the other ‘cogs in the clock’ have to work extra hard to provide the spine with the stability which it needs.
This inevitably ends in one of two situations (or both) - either the muscles/joint which is carrying the extra load give out, resulting in for example, knots in certain core muscles begin to develop or the difference in muscle load causes your biomechanics to go out sync - meaning joints don’t line up the way they should (and this is how having a weak core could lead to a knee injury).
The absolute worst-case scenario here is that eventually, as each muscle struggles to cope with the increased load placed on them, the spine is not given the support which it needs - leading to back injuries.
This may sound like a lot of work - or maybe just more than you anticipated when you contemplated strengthening your core - but it is more important than you think. The best part? You can do it all from right within your own lounge. Make sure to check out Instagram page (@ez_massager) as we delve deeper into the task that is recovery and hopefully helps you to live a pain-free life.