How can I increase my core strength and stability?

Core stabilization exercises are easy to do. You can start with the simple exercises you learn here. You don't need any equipment for these exercises, and you don't need much space. You can do them almost anywhere, several times each day, to start increasing your core stability.

It's more important that you do core stabilization activities well than that you do a lot of them. For this reason, it's a good idea to have a physical therapist or exercise physiologist with training in core stabilization check to be sure you have learned to use the right muscles and breathe normally while you do the exercises. Then he or she can help you learn more challenging core stabilization exercises.

Breathing

When you exercise, you should breathe mostly with your diaphragm, the large muscle that helps move air in and out of your lungs. To learn to breathe with your diaphragm, lie down on your back and put your hand on your stomach. When you breathe in and out, your hand should move up and down. Notice how it feels to breathe this way. When you start to exercise, try to get the same feeling of your chest and abdomen moving in and out as you breathe, rather than your chest and shoulders moving up toward your neck and back down.

Neutral spine

Neutral spine is the name for posture that maintains the three normal curves  in your spine—one in your neck, one in your upper back, and one in your lower back. These three curves help absorb stress and impact on your body, both while you are sitting or standing still and when you move. It may seem more relaxing to let yourself slump down. But when you lose the normal curves of a neutral spine, you actually put more stress on your body. Your spine should be in the neutral position when you do core stabilization exercises.

To find neutral spine:

  1. Stand normally in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips, just below your waist.
  2. Allow your low back to arch so your stomach juts forward, and your buttocks stick out. Notice how your hands rotate forward.
  3. Tighten the muscles around your stomach and buttocks so your low back becomes very flat. Notice how your hands rotate backward.
  4. Now go halfway between the forward and back positions.
  5. Keeping your pelvis in this neutral position, stand tall with your ears and shoulders lined up over your hips.
  6. Practice finding neutral spine in three positions: standing, sitting, and lying on your back with your knees bent. When you can find neutral spine in each position, you can maintain good posture for daily activities and for exercise.

Simple exercises

Transverse abdominus contraction. The key to core stabilization is learning to use the deep muscles of your trunk. There are several muscles involved, but the first one to work on is your transverse abdominus. The transverse abdominus wraps around the front of your body like a corset. It's the muscle you feel when you cough. To contract the transverse abdominus, pull in your belly and imagine pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Remember to keep your neutral spine while you do this—don't let your back bend forward. Hold this contraction for about 6 seconds, then rest for up to 10 seconds. Repeat 8 to 12 times. Remember to keep breathing normally as you hold the contraction. You can do this exercise anywhere, in any position. Try it while you work at your desk, drive, or stand waiting for your turn at the drugstore.

Bridging. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Find your neutral spine position, and hold it during the exercise. Tighten your transverse abdominus, then push with your feet and raise your buttocks up a few inches. Hold this position about 6 seconds as you continue to breathe normally, then lower yourself slowly to the floor and rest for up to 10 seconds. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

Next steps

After you have mastered these simple exercises, your therapist or exercise physiologist can help you find more challenging ways to work on your trunk muscles. For example, you might do some activities while standing up, then do the same activities while sitting on a large ball called a Swiss ball. The ball makes it harder for you to keep your balance as you do the activity.

SPINE 

The spine (backbone) is composed of 33 interlocking bones called vertebrae that are separated by soft, compressible discs and supported by many different ligaments and muscles. It is divided into five segments: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper and middle back), lumbar (lower back), sacrum (pelvis), and coccyx (tailbone). In each segment, the vertebrae are numbered from top to bottom. For example, a C3 is the third vertebra in the neck area, while a T6 is the sixth vertebra in the thoracic area.

The vertebrae in the spine normally form 3 curves. These curves allow the spine to absorb shock as you move.

 

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