Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting to the Core of the Matter...

Question: Hello
I work in a department store where I unload boxes from tractor-trailers each day. I joined a gym about 3 months ago to get myself stronger as most of our lifting is bending over and picking up boxes, up to 150 lbs. in weight. One of my co-workers pulled a back muscle last month and he felt like it was a heart attack. Ouch! Scared everyone. He is ok now, but afraid to lift anything. He probably will be fired soon.

Anyway, at the gym, all the guys seem to make a big emphasis on arm workouts. They want big biceps and thicker shoulders. While the women focus on "core exercises" that they say is more important than arm exercises.

I looked up on the Internet what "core" is, and I get varying answers. Can you tell me what muscles are our "core muscles?" It seems to focus mostly on the stomach and lower back, but some even include shoulders, and others include our butt. None mention arms or legs.

I think that core is more important. Not bodybuilder massive arms. It seems to me that bodybuilders have too much upper body, and almost nothing on the way down below the ribs. A flat stomach looks good on photos, but I am guessing again that a strong stomach, not a flat stomach, is more important, including strong hips and legs.
- Michael, Utah
Where is the core? I think most people have this label confused, so I will do my best to describe MY interpretation of the core. As a professional that observes the movements and performance of my clients and athletes daily, it is clear to me that the core is a cylindrical area of the body that protects the spine. When the muscles that comprise the "core" work properly, they "brace" or "stiffen" in order to allow levers to produce movements. These levers are your limbs and they are powered by the surrounding muscles. When someone says "all movement comes from the core"'s a general statement, but not necessarily false. If you want to visually imagine what the "core" looks like, take an old GI Joe action figure or a Barbie doll from your old toy chest. Rip off the arms, legs and head. Now, you are left with the "core".

As I stated,  the statement that the core is centrally located is not entirely false, but it is incomplete to me. The core is more than just the "center" of the body or mostly noted: abdominal region. The core may also include the hips, (lumbo-pelvic-hip complex) and scapular muscular complex including the rotator cuff muscles. I consider anything  that provides strong leverage for power as a core muscle. Exercises such as planks, hip bridges, ab roll-outs,  woodchops, and other cool exercises like this one:

and this one:

If your job is to lift things up off the floor, I suggest you begin focusing your gym time on exercising the body as a whole. Forget just isolating the arms--that is counter-productive and in time, may leave you in the same situation as your co-worker having extreme and debilitating low back pain. I suggest you begin to include exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups into your regular workout. Once you have Googled the core exercises I have outlined above, begin to include them into your program also. I suggest you get with a good trainer at your gym and refer to these exercises for proper instruction. Hope it works out and check back with me.



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