Getting To The Core Of It

A physiotherapist explains what core stability really means.

What is the core?

These days, the core is a hot topic. People are constantly working towards building stronger core muscles (especially with the summer months not far off the horizon!). But when people say “I need to work on my core” what does that really mean?

Simply put, the core can be divided into 2 groups:
  1. the local, inner stabilizing system
  2. the global, movement system

The local group of core muscles are often neglected as we work on strengthening our outer core muscles. However, we need both systems to be strong to have a strong core.

So why is having a strong core important?

Weak core muscles have been linked to poor walking mechanics, postural alignment, and transfer of forces during everyday activities (such as when you move from sitting to standing). It has also been linked with chronic low back pain, as well as an increased risk of injury and pain. 1

With proper activation and enough training, your core can help mitigate these risks by allowing for more effective management of stress through the low back and pelvic region. It also facilitates more effective transfer of loads through the body, which puts you at decreased risk for injury. 2

Common mistakes when working on core strengthening:  

  • Slumped posture: in order to achieve the best activation of your core, you need to be in proper postural alignment.
  • Over-bracing the abdominal muscles: bracing recruits the outer unit muscles without necessarily activating the inner unit of your core- you need both. It is important to have inner unit control prior to outer unit strengthening, and to maintain that inner unit control during functional exercises and activities.
  • Breath holding: Poor breathing patterns accompany or contribute to low back pain and have a direct link to weaker core strength. The diaphragm is the principle muscle involved in breathing and is also a muscle in the inner unit- so make sure you keep breathing!

 Tips to keep in mind when training your core:

  • Start slow- Take your time and be patient.
  • Be mindful of your posture
  • Consistency- You want to get to a point where your core muscles can automatically activate during everyday activities, and this can only happen with lots of practice. Conscious retraining of muscles requires significant repetition (between 400-1000 repetitions) before activation becomes a subconscious reaction.
  • Learn how to activate the core.

 If you are interested in learning more and building a strong core, consider signing up for Alaia Core Stabilization Series beginning February 9th.

  1. M. Panjabi. The stabilizing system of the spine. Part I. Function, dysfunction, adaptation, and enhancement. J Spinal Disord, 5 (4): 383–389, 1992.
  2. Kutz, M. “Evidence for core training: What works and for who.” NSCA Performance Training Journal5: 10-12, 2009.