Core stability exercises – 10 Benefits and why are they really so good for you?
Core stability exercises – what exactly are they and how can they help me?
Have you ever tried Pilates? Maybe you braved a class or maybe you have never actually even got that far.
If like me, you went along to a Pilates gym class full of at least 30 – 40 other people you may have walked away thinking I’m not really sure what that was all about? The words “zip and hollow” were a little empty and meaningless to me if I’m honest.
Yoga on the other hand, I stretched, I felt a sense of achievement if I got into and out of a warrior pose without falling over but Pilates was puzzling.
I couldn’t feel what exactly I was supposed to be doing and when!? It all sounds so confusing!
During my physiotherapy career I became more interested in core stability exercises as I used them with many different patient types.
I became fascinated by these muscles and I am now on a mission to help everybody I can to understand them and use them.
We all have four muscles that attach directly to our spine that act as core stabilising muscles.
The two most common and well known are the transverse abdominis (lower tummy muscles) and the pelvic floor muscles.
If we can strengthen these muscles and use them functionally then we have created a brilliant inner powerhouse unit that can protect and help prevent further injuries to our backs and our bodies in general.
So, here are the 10 reasons why core stability exercises are so great for you:
1. They strengthen your spine.
Our core stability muscles are deep, inner layers of muscle whose primary purpose is joint stabilisation. They form an abdominal cylinder of stability deep within our bodies around our spine which is often referred to as our “centre”.
These muscles are like endurance muscles that are required to work all day and provide a continuous support to our spine. They should be worked therefore at a slow and gentle pace to avoid fatigue.
Working our core stability muscles during functional tasks like walking, taking the washing in and out and climbing the stairs increases their strength which in turn stabilises and protects your spine.
2. They help protect you from further injuries.
Having a strong abdominal cylinder will help increase the stability of each vertebrae in your back. This then allows your powerful outer muscles to function without cause for concern.
Following an injury it is normal for our inner core muscles to stop functioning. They quite often will switch off when the body is experiencing pain. However, this is when the larger outer muscles try and step in to “help” which often causes muscle spasm or the muscles working to hard to compensate for a lack of support from your centre.
Does this paint a picture to you?
I regularly saw patients in A&E with severe low back pain because they were experiencing intense muscle spasms that were trying to “help” protect their body from further injury. The pain was so severe that when they would try and move, it got worse so they would stay still thinking that would help resolve the injury.
Injuries need new blood flow, new body cells, new nutrients and nourishment to help the healing process. You don’t get any of that by keeping still.
Static = stiff
Movement = nourishment.
Working your inner, deep core muscles allows the bigger muscles to relax and muscle spasm to ease which is the best solution all round.
3. They increase your body awareness and body position.
Knowing how to activate your centre will in turn increase your body awareness of the position your body is in. It’s like a lightbulb moment when people understand this. Often we are so out of tune with our bodies posture and position it is hard to know exactly where we are in space.
Getting to know your body and being aware of how you are moving really does bring a whole new meaning to body awareness. It also helps you to focus hugely on the here and now.
Body awareness greatly improves your posture and reduces unwanted muscle tension as we learn to work our inner core muscles to stabilise our spine and let our outer bigger muscles relax and stop being overworked.
Ladies do you constantly feel like your shoulders are up around your ears?
The larger muscles are not designed to do an endurance job. Hence the increased tension a lot of us feel and hold there is extreme. We need to get back in touch with our shoulder blade stabiliser muscles and glide those shoulders back down away from our ears every time we realise they have crept up again.
Being aware of these bad movement patterns is the first step to reversing them!
4. They massively improve your body confidence.
When you can actively engage and work your core stability muscles your body confidence will soar. You will hold yourself straighter and taller which in turn elevates your confidence. Your shoulders will broaden and you will hold yourself with a much better stance.
If anyone watched Gary Lineker present Match of the Day in his boxer shorts the other week you would have noticed his rounded shoulders and slumped posture – he did not look comfortable at all sat there in his boxers and this exuded poor body confidence.
Standing tall and standing proud oozes body confidence that will help you feel better about yourself to.
5. They help you eliminate leakage problems when toileting.
Our pelvic floor muscles are our body’s natural trampolines that form the floor to our abdominal support canister. They help control the outlet of the bladder and bowel passages, keep the organs up in our pelvis, have a sexual function and help stabilise the spine as they attach directly to our tailbones.
Having good strong pelvic floor muscles help control keeping water, wind and poo in when we need to hang on a bit longer to get to a loo. They also stop us leaking if we cough, laugh or sneeze suddenly. Good usage of these muscles prevents incontinence problems.
6. They improve your posture.
If you can stand or sit with your core stability muscles engaged you will massively improve your posture and feel so much better.
Joseph Pilates has a great quote that says “Never slouch as doing so compresses the lungs, overcrowds other vital organs, rounds the back and throws you off balance.”
Has everyone just sat up straight reading that? Great stuff!
7. They energise you.
Practising core stability exercises using the Pilates method allows you to feel energised. This is because you are focusing on your body awareness and position throughout and engaging muscles that improve your posture.
Strengthening your deep, inner core muscles allow you to expend less energy as you are using muscles that are more efficient to support your body and it’s control.
8. They promote improved oxygenation & circulation to your body.
By breathing laterally as encouraged in Pilates this allows you to work the lower parts of your lungs which are the widest parts of your lungs. Imagine your lungs like two triangles in your chest – the base of the triangles are the furthest away from your shoulders.
When we are tensed or stressed we hold our shoulders elevated up near our ears. We tend to breath shallow into the top parts of our lungs which reduces the amount of oxygen we actually breath in.
By breathing deeply to the base and sides of our lungs we create vital extra space to allow improved oxygen consumption which in turn makes you feel super charged! This increase in oxygen, improves your circulation around your body and helps to nourish and provide essential nutrients to areas in your body that need it.
9. They reduce unwanted muscle tension.
Working our inner, deeper core muscles allows larger muscles to relax and so unwanted tension can be reduced in certain areas. The upper shoulders and our lower back are classic examples here.
If you can activate your shoulder blade stabiliser muscles you will create length between your head and shoulders which improves your posture and helps reduce the upper trapezius muscles from overworking.
If you can activate your pelvic floor and lower tummy muscles your back extensor muscles can lengthen and relax instead of feeling tight and short and hurting every time you bend forward or lift something heavy. Your core muscles will now stabilise the joints in your spine so your muscles who move you can help you do just that!
10. They help you work out without working up a sweat!
A true Pilates work out will make you feel taller and create space for you between each vertebra in your back. You don’t necessarily work up a sweat because the emphasis of the exercise is in the control and precision element of movement. Strengthening postural muscles that work steadily away in the background for us is all about how you are moving and not about how many or how quickly you finish the exercises.
With Core Stability Exercises you feel like you have certainly worked out, but in a toning up way rather than an out of breath, sweaty way.
Pilates is a superb form of exercise that if done correctly you will reap the benefits in more ways than one.
If you are injured or have suffered a previous injury then take care entering large gym classes and choose a smaller class with an instructor who can tailor exercise to your needs or adjust you if needed in class.
My new online programme “Confident Core” is an excellent starting block to learn how to use your core stability muscles effectively and will be available shortly. To join the mailing list so you get all the information as it goes live click <<<here>>>.
For more great advise and tips about posture, core stability exercises and body control follow me at www.facebook.com/MarieFellThePilatesPhysio