Core strength, stability, and control are all major components of sports performance and injury reduction. Your core is responsible for transferring energy and power from your lower body to your upper body as well as power from your upper body to your lower body. Without the proper core stability and control, the transfer of energy will be less than maximal leading to a decrease in performance. Core stabilization also plays a major role in protecting and supporting your spine during athletic activities and movements. Without it, your spine is more likely to move into vulnerable positions which can lead to injury. A systematic review states that various components of core stabilization were found to be related to lower extremity injuries in healthy athletes. This suggests that all athletes should be screened for proper core stabilization and make it a priority when training for sports. Another systematic review suggests that athletes should focus on multi-joint free weight exercises, rather than core-specific exercises, to sufficiently train core muscles.
When people imagine core strength, they usually picture six-pack abs. This is the wrong image to have. Your core is made up of multiple muscles superficial and deep, some even located on your back, that all help with stabilization. You have your rectus abdominus (six-pack), external and internal obliques, transverses abdominis, pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidus, quadratus lumborum, and even erector spinae play a role. The glute max also has a minor role in core and pelvic stability.
Proper breathing is important for core stabilization, reduction in stress, and reducing the usage of accessory breathing muscles. To help strengthen your diaphragm, it is important to belly breathe. “Belly breathing” is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm sits just under the rib cage and expands 360 degrees around the torso. When working on diaphragmatic breathing it is important to initiate the breath from all angles including the low back, sides of the abdomen, and stomach. To work on diaphragm breathing lay on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and try to initiate your breath where your hands are without having the chest rise. Take 10 slow breaths with equal inhale to exhale. Next, move your hands to the sides of your abdomen and try to initiate the breath there, repeat the 10 breaths. Do this same thing while having your hands under your back. After doing all three sides try to breathe with all 360 degrees of the diaphragm.
5 Core Exercises
Aside from the breathing exercise described above, here are five great core stabilization exercises that athletes should work into their training routine. Click the exercise for a video.