Fit to the core?
4th February 2011
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Ever been nagged about your dodgy posture, or wondered why there's so much fuss made about core stability? Read on for some simple explanations and compelling reasons to incorporate it into your life and fitness regime.

Our skeletons and muscular systems evolved at a time when humans spent their time hunting, gathering, building, fighting and generally being out there and being active. These early humans would have had very well developed core stabilisers and would have found that optimum posture and alignment was the most efficient and natural way to hold their bodies - all without having been aware of any of it.

Modern life has none of these built in demands and the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time sitting down, very often forced into poor posture by badly designed chairs, unsupportive sofas etc... Therefore our deep stabilisation muscles do very little work on a routine basis and most people have lost the ability to activate these muscles automatically when moving around and performing lifting and other loaded activities. What then happens is that when lifting a heavy load or reaching and twisting on a repeated basis other muscles (typically those which are designed for short term movement followed by long periods of rest) take over or compensate. At best, this can lead to muscle imbalance and the subsequent stiffness. At worst, the long term consequences can include acute (think pulled muscles or worse) or chronic back pain and disc prolapse - ouch!

So why does posture matter, do we need to all be as upright as my skeletal friend? Poor posture - rounded shoulders and upper back, arched or flattened lower back, wonky pelvis or twisted back are all evidence that your muscles are habitually out of balance. Holding yourself upright in good posture, front and back, left to right, up and down, your stabilising muscles will all be in balance, operating at their optimum length and tension and allowing you freedom of movement and room to breathe. Take this away and you're ultimately left in a heap, lurching from side to side as you walk, lungs and diaphragm compressed, with sore neck/back/shoulders/hips/knees etc... Think about it - we all know someone who looks like this and it's not pretty or comfortable. Unless caused by an underlying structural problem (e.g. osteoporosis or scoliosis), then it's completely preventable - it doesn't happen overnight and it is entirely under your control!

What can you do NOW to get the benefits of good posture and core stability? At the very least, be aware of your posture and try to maintain good alignment as often as you possibly can. The basics are simple - keep your pelvis neutral (neither flopped backwards nor arched forwards), your shoulders slid away from your ears and gently (turning your palms to face the front with your elbows gently at your sides is all it takes) slotting back so they're flush with the rest of your back and lengthen through the back of your neck and down through the rest of your spine (imagine balancing a book or a cup of hot tea on the top of your head to prevent your chin poking forward or collapsing into your chest).  Even better - get along to a Pilates class to teach your core how to work properly again, or incorporate some focused core stability work into your training. And no, sit-ups won't cut it - in fact, for most people they're probably about the worst thing they can do for their posture and core stability, but more of that another time!

About the Author

Jenny M

Member since: 18th May 2011

I believe that exercise is for everyone - let me help you build your fitness, confidence and energy, set realistic goals and have loads of fun along the way

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