Core strength and the spine

Thomas Tung

/ Physiotherapist

You hear the word “core strength” or “core stability” thrown around a lot in exercise. You hear it in regards to dance, pilates, yoga, or even just general fitness, but what is it? How exactly do you train it, and how does it benefit you?


What is a ‘core’ muscle?

Core muscles provide stability to your body. They aren’t the big muscles that move your arms and legs, but the smaller muscles that allow you to brace and protect your body from injury. Underneath your abs, there is a layer of muscles that wrap around your stomach and back. When the core muscles tighten up – they create a brace around your low back.


How do the core muscles help?

Core muscles can turn on in many different situations to protect your back. If you are running, lifting a heavy box or your body is suddenly jolted – the core muscles tighten to protect the back from bending too much, minimizing the risk of damage to the back.


How do I know if I am using my core muscles?

This is usually assessed by a physiotherapist, but a quick check is to draw your belly button inwards. There is a bony part at the front of your hips. If you put your fingers on the side of this bone closer to the stomach, you can feel a small bit of tightness. If you draw in and only this part tightens up, your core muscles can turn on! If your other stomach muscles turn on too, then the core muscles aren’t working perfectly.


What if I have really defined abs?

Abs are not core muscles. In fact when your abdominal muscles turn on without the core muscles – they bend the spine even more! It’s nice to have a six pack, but only if you’ve got core muscles turning on underneath!


How do I train my core muscles?

There is an element of core training in yoga, pilates and some styles of dance, but those don’t focus on just the core. Core training can be done when walking in a pool, as the pressure from the water helps to draw your belly button in. These are only a few of the ways to train your core.


What if I don’t have good core strength?

If you’re worried that you are lacking in core strength and that it is affecting your back, be sure to ask a health professional about it.