Dr. Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM, begins talking about The Importance Of Building Your Core Muscles, and sets the stage for learning how.
The Importance Of Building Your Core Muscles
By Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM
Virtually everyone will develop some degree of lower back pain at some point in his or her lifetime. Walking around with an excessively big belly causes unusual stress on your lower back region and can contribute to discomfort. Moreover, if you already have a lower-back injury, inactivity is the best way to promote atrophy of the muscles in that area and increase the likelihood of having prolonged disability and recurrent injuries. The ability to balance and remain upright, essential for the prevention of falls and further injury, also diminishes as you allow your core and other muscles to weaken.
To prevent all types of injuries, promote better posture, and enhance balance, it’s vitally important to include exercises that build and enhance a strong body “core.” Building this core involves strengthening and stretching your lower back and abdominal regions equally, which can be done with various exercises. Your lower back has a relatively small amount of muscle compared to your front abdominal region, making it easier to work on your abs. Don’t make the mistake of underemphasizing the strengthening of the lower back muscles you do have, though, just because working your abs is easier.
Enhancing your lower-body strength is also an important part of preventing injury. When doing any upright exercises, lower your center of gravity for balance and injury prevention by bending at your hips and/or knees to absorb much of the muscular work in your lower body and to assist in keeping your back straight. Even when you pick up a light object off the floor, you’ll want to practice such techniques to prevent straining your relatively weak lower back. The proper way to pick up any object from the floor is to bend your knees and flex your hips while keeping your lower back straight as you lower yourself down with your legs to reach the item. For a proper lifting technique, practice the suitcase lift that will follow in another column.
Using resistance training machines that isolate your lower back region can further reduce your risk of lower back injuries. If you have access to a back extension machine, by all means use it regularly. Practicing good posture at all times (sitting up straight, bending your knees whenever possible to reduce lower back stress, and using chairs that provide lower back support) can also help prevent lower back pain and injury.
A word of caution about some of the following exercises: when doing abdominal crunches, you may feel pain in your neck because your abdominal muscles are weak and your neck muscles are helping to lift your upper torso. One way to relieve the stress on your neck is to take a towel, roll it up, and place it behind your head, and then hold both ends tightly so that the towel supports your neck. Keep the towel taut as you do any sort of curling-up abdominal work.
In two weeks, you will find the first in a series of articles that contain exercises to help you build your core strength and improve your balance. For more information, consult The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight by Sheri Colberg and The Science of Staying Young by John E. Morley and Sheri Colberg (2007). Also, visit her web site at www.shericolberg.com for additional articles and access to her fitness blog.