A strong, stable core is the foundation of virtually all physical efforts.
Pilates and yoga practitioners as well as dedicated athletes are familiar with the concept of "core stability." They understand its importance in achieving and maintaining superior fitness. A strong and stable core improves athletic performance, increases power and endurance, reduces stress on the body and minimizes the chances of injury. It helps to improve balance and posture, alleviates back pain and minimizes fatigue. Even everyday actions are easier, whether climbing stairs or lifting a box or holding a baby.
The muscles most responsible for core stability run the length of the trunk and torso. They include the famous "six pack" abdominal muscles, the muscles that underlie the spinal column and neck and which help to rotate the back, the oblique muscles, and the muscles of the hips and thighs. Exercises designed specifically to address these muscles are the only way to build a stable core.
Anatomy of Core Stability features such exercises. They are designed to work the entire core musculature, from the major muscles in the abdomen, spine, lower back, torso, hips and thighs, which endure the greater effort, to the smaller assisting muscles, which support the larger. Many exercises use inexpensive equipment such as a stability ball, medicine ball, free weights and wobble board.
American Reference Books Annual praised this series' first book, Anatomy of Exercise, as "fascinating" and recommended it to "medium-sized and large public libraries as well as high school and undergraduate collections." This latest addition to the series will prove equally commendable and is an important purchase.
The "Anatomy of..." series has revolutionized how people can approach their fitness needs. The books are ideal references for beginning exercisers and amateur athletes, elite competitors, trainers, physiotherapists, coaches, sport injury clinics, yoga, pilates and fitness instructors, team doctors and specialist professionals.
Hollis Lance Liebman has been a fitness magazine editor and national bodybuilding champion. Currently a Los Angeles resident, Hollis has worked with some of Hollywood's elite, earning rave reviews. His web site is www.holliswashere.com.
In our everyday lexicon, words such as "toning," "aerobic," and "lifting" bring to mind a workout at the gym. Other terms--such as "study," "syllabus," and "exam"--suggest we are talking about school. However, certain words transcend the environments with which they are most closely linked. In the past few years, the term "core" has entered the collective consciousness. We hear of toning the core at the gym, firing from the core on the athletic field, getting up from a desk at a sedentary job to engage the core, and strengthening the core at the physical therapist's office. With so many uses and meanings, core is justifiably here to stay.
What Exactly is the Core?
The term "core" refers to the muscles in the lower trunk area that work together to provide support and mobility, enabling all bodily movement. The core includes the rectus abdominis, or six-pack, which tenses the abdominal wall by contracting the abdominal muscles. Surrounding your abs are the internal and external obliques, which allow you to bend from side to side and rotate your torso. The Christmas treeâ€“shaped erector spinae is situated behind the abdominals, at the lower back, and is responsible for spinal stabilization and spinal movement. Lastly, the hip flexors act as the foundation of this muscular complex, supporting movement in the pelvic area.
Essentially, the core is the center of the body and is key in terms of performance, functionality, and longevity. Improving the core's aesthetic and mobility necessitates consistent and diligent effort. Getting the most out of your core requires more than just the right diet. Core exercises enable the skeleton, muscles, and joints to work together properly, as well as offering a combination of strengthening, stretching, balancing, realigning, and fat loss that nutrition alone would not achieve.
By maintaining a strong core, you also lend optimal support to ancillary (assisting) muscles. Indeed, the core is so central to your body's total movement that it is called upon when firing each and every muscle. When you are in the middle of a squat, for example, your core is engaged to maintain the integrity of the vertical movement; when pressing dumbbells overhead, the core keeps the body straight on, as opposed to curved. Have you ever worked your triceps and discovered later that your midsection was quite sore? That's your core at work.
Even away from the gym, real-life everyday tasks are made possible only by the core stabilizing your body and offering support to other firing muscles. Searching the cupboard for something to eat? You are using your core. Mowing the lawn, changing a diaper, putting groceries away, and myriad other mundane chores employ not just your body musculature but core stabilization, too.
Unfortunately, artificial supports such as chair backs have, for years, done the body's work for us, and our cores have suffered as a result. In particular, those with sedentary vocations ought to service their cores regularly. Core training is not just for athletes; it is for everyone--from the golfer looking to improve his or her game, to the office worker sitting at a desk all day and complaining of back pain. And core training will benefit you, the busy person with far greater responsibilities than ever before and less time in which to work out.
Core Training vs. Core Stability
With so much talk about core, the terms "core training" and "core stability" are often used interchangeably. However, they are actually two very different things. In core training, the muscles function as a unified whole rather than in isolation, as they would, for example, in most weight-resistance programs, which are targeted more toward particular muscle groups--chest and biceps, say. Core exercises are movements and physical positions that target the core directly, and it is possible to use core training--much like weight training--to enhance your midsection's muscular definition and compactness throughout. In this way, core training is often the goal in and of itself for those wishing to create a more defined, sleeker midsection, such as models or bodybuilders, who wish to show off great muscle definition. Core-stability exercises, by contrast, are those movements and physical positions that help build a strong core that is ready to do whatever you ask of it. The core is employed in all movement and is nearly impossible to exclude while working out. Were you to press a weight overhead, you would find that your core acts as a stabilizer, allowing the deltoids and triceps to complete the given task. Were it not for even the most rudimentary core stability, the torso would simply buckle instead of remaining upright and erect during the movement. The function of the abdominals is to assist the spine, and stability exercises improve your ability to do this, while also working the visible abdominal muscles.
You can liken optimal core stability to greater functionality or real-world performance, rather than pure aesthetics or the shape and clarity of abdominal musculature. It is possible to have very good core stability (performance and support) and yet appear soft or fleshy throughout the midsection. However, in stabilizing the core through exercise, you are also working on making the abdominals more visible. Conversely, just because somebody is physically strong, it does not necessarily make them stable. Strength is a factor of core stability, but it is not the main function.
As we age, the blind pursuit of aesthetics tends to diminish somewhat, and the desire to be healthy far exceeds the will to look good. This book can help you sculpt a leaner, more pleasing, stronger waistline, which in turn will provide support for the ever-aging spine, helping you feel more youthful.
Static vs. Dynamic ExercisesIn working and strengthening the core, two different exercise forms must be employed in order to achieve the best results: static and dynamic. Static exercise results in greater strength, flexibility, and mobility, whereas dynamic exercise leads to improved blood circulation, strength, and endurance.
Although people often think of abdominal exercise when considering core work, truly functional training is far more beneficial--that is, training that stimulates improvement in the body's ability to complete everyday tasks. It is important to learn how to engage your core in various positions, as well as during activity, to provide maximum stability for your spine.
Using This Book
Anatomy of Core Stability begins with a selection of routines that can be considered warm-ups or stretches. These are followed by a rich selection of static and dynamic exercises, and the book concludes with actual workout sequences. It is important to ease into the exercises outlined. Since the primary goal is core stabilization, strength and the explosiveness of the movements are secondary to mastering correct form and execution, as well as the assistance of ancillary muscles and, above all, proper spinal support.
Several mainstays to keep in mind when working the core include correct breathing, speed, and movement for the exercises. With a diligent and firm command of these three elements, it is possible to tap into the muscles efficiently and effectively. It is for this reason that endless sets and repetitions are neither necessary nor advised. You need merely undertake a few calculated sets to achieve a deep muscular burn.
Breathing should be natural and steady. A deep inhale should accompany the negative, or stretched, part of the movement (think of pulling back the arrow on a bow before launch), followed by a full exhale on the positive, or extended, portion (releasing the arrow). It is of paramount importance never to hold your breath during exercise, particularly during the static exercises, since this could ultimately prove fatal. Be conscious of your breathing, but also remain attuned to the exercise at hand.
Exercise speed should be based on a slow or controlled negative portion of the movement, followed by an explosive positive. I advise 5-second counted reps. These should be neither very fast nor super-slow; rather, they should be at a natural pace that can be maintained throughout the entire set.
The key to effective exercise is to focus fully on each and every repetition. Those who claim to complete 1,000 sit-ups would, in truth, be lucky to have executed 100 properly, since the neck and lower back tend to be called into play, as well as speed and momentum, when performing that many--and, of course, they should not. Although the core calls for a working together of both primary and ancillary muscles, core stability is at its best when each muscle performs its job as part of a collective.
Introduction Full-Body Anatomy
Warm-Up and Stretching Exercises
Glossary Credits and Acknowledgments