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At the core of the matter:

Building core muscles is key to improving performance in almost any sport or physical activity and can help avoid debilitating back pain.
By Beth Hart
Date: May 23 2013
Tags: fitness, exercise,
Editor Rating:

Anyone who's done any type of Pilates, yoga, gym work will have heard about the importance of the 'core'. What is it and why is it important?

What is it?

The 'core' is largely bounded by the rib cage and hips at the back and front. It includes the muscles, bones and joints in your abdomen, back, sides, pelvis, buttocks and hips. It also includes some muscles higher up on the back: the trapezius and latissimus dorsi contribute to core stability. 

Why is it important?

No matter where motion starts, it ripples upward and downward to adjoining links of the chain. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function which saps power from many of the moves you make. Properly building up your core cranks up the power. A strong core also enhances balance and stability - which means it can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities.

A strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do. Here's a rundown on why your core is important.

Everyday acts

Bending to put on shoes or scoop up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, or simply standing still—these are just a few of the many mundane actions that rely on your core and that you might not notice until they become difficult or painful. Even basic activities of daily living - bathing or dressing, for example - call on your core.

On-the-job tasks

Jobs that involve lifting, twisting, and standing all rely on core muscles. But less obvious tasks - like sitting at your desk for hours - engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re not strong enough to practice good posture and aren’t taking sufficient breaks.

A healthy back

Low back paiin can be a debilitating, sometimes excruciating problem. But it can be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles. When back pain strikes, a regimen of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it, coupled with medications, physical therapy, or other treatments if necessary.

Sports and other pleasurable activities

Golf, tennis or other racquet sports, biking, running, swimming, volleyball, kayaking, rowing, and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core. Less often mentioned are sexual activities, which call for core power and flexibility, too.

Housework, jobs around the house and gardening

Bending, lifting, twisting, carrying, hammering, reaching overhead—even vacuuming, mopping, and dusting are acts that spring from, or pass through, the core.

Balance and stability.

Your core stabilises your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance. Viewed this way, core exercises can lessen your risk of falling.

Good posture

Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence. It also lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, too.

Washboard abs

If washboard abs are your holy grail, it’s essential to pare off fat with diet and aerobic exercise and build strong abdominal muscles through frequent core exercise sessions. Weak, tight, or unbalanced core muscles can undermine you in any of these realms. So while it’s important to build a strong core, it’s unwise to aim all your efforts at developing rippling abs. Overtraining abdominal muscles while snubbing muscles of the back and hip can set you up for injuries and cut athletic prowess.

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