The Best Core Exercise You Probably Aren't Doing.
What The Core is And How to Train It
There are a lot of good exercises out there to strengthen your core, the problem is not many people are doing these exercises because there is a poor understanding what “core” means, and how the “core” functions in human movement. So let’s clear up this confusion first.
I typically tell my patients that you have 3 cores; a core for the neck and shoulder complex, a core for the lumbar spine and torso, and a core for the hips and pelvis. Granted, this is a bit of a misnomer, because all three of these “cores” are continuous with one another through chains of muscles that all work together to perform the same function, which is to create a stable spine for the arms and legs to move about. So your “core” actually runs throughout the entire torso from hip to shoulders and into the neck, a much larger area than the abs, which most aesthetically focused exercises target.
A secondary purpose of the core is to control rotational forces that result from day to day activities, the main one being walking. When we walk, as our left foot comes forward, our right hand also comes forward creating rotation in the spine which can be damaging to tissues (discs, cartilage, ligaments) if not properly controlled. The control of this motion is mainly done by our obliques and paraspinal muscles (tiny muscles that attach directly to the bones of the spine) and must be trained in order to protect us against repetitive use injuries, and therein lies the problem. You won't be training these muscles by doing frontal plane (think flexion/extension like a crunch of leg lift) exercises typically seen in the gym.
There are two types of exercises that train our core to be more resilient to this rotational force, anti-rotation exercises like the pallof press, and controlled rotation exercises like chop and lift variations. However, there is one exercise that not only focuses on controlling rotation, but improves shoulder and hip stability, helps create coordination of the core system, improves mobility in the wrist and hips, requires no equipment, and most importantly, it gets you down on the ground so it’s very safe!
This exercise is quadruped crawling. It sounds much easier than it really is, and in order to perform these exercises correctly, it requires great hip mobility, a strong core, and coordination of the entire system. It’s a fantastic neurological exercise as well because it requires the teamwork of so many muscles working together.
So how do you perform this exercise correctly?
The most basic rule with crawling is to keep the butt low and keep a neutral spine. You can start on your hands and knees, or hands and toes, but as you crawl resist the urge to let the butt raise up high like you would in a “bear crawl”. Move very slow and controlled, moving the opposite hand and foot/knee at the same time so they leave the ground simultaneously and are placed back down simultaneously. Imagine a ball being placed in the small of your back, and as you move, try to keep the ball from rolling off the low back. Variations include forward and backward patterns, side to side patterns, box patterns, and transitions from one style to another.
You may need to condition your wrists if you don’t gain enough mobility and strength in the wrists. You may also need to work on hip and knee mobility so you’re not over stressing those joints. These are not always quick fixes, but by not addressing these mobility restrictions you will be at a high risk of injury in your daily life anytime you get into an unfamiliar position, such as falling. When you’ve built up enough resiliency in the wrists, shoulders, knees, and hips, the crawling variations will tie your core together better than any isolation exercise will ever do.
So next time you are looking for a good warm up or cool down core exercise, ditch the sit-ups or these “core” machines, and practice some crawling patterns for 5-10 minutes. You’ll be surprised at how challenging these exercises can be.
Dr. Scott Dunaway is a Doctor of Chiropractic located in Clarksville Tn and owner of ChiroStrength. He specializes in treating injuries associated with repetitive overuse habits by combining chiropractic adjustments, Active Release Techniques, and global movement assessment and corrections. To schedule an appointment call the clinic at 931-321-1414 or submit the new patient form on www.ChiroStrength.com