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Core, Core, Core!

8 December 2011 Andrew Verdon

Core strength is invaluable in the Etchells

"Core strength is invaluable in the Etchells"

Photo by:
Kylie Wilson,

What is it and should I worry about it?

Many of us in the health industry are sick about hearing and seeing 'core' on TV and especially in the low quality, gossip-type magazines. Pilates, Yoga, vibrating gadgets and TV infomercials at any time of day, all promise core, core stability, core training or core strength etc.

So just what is it?
Is it a gimmick?
Do you need to focus on it all?
Will it give me a 'six pack'?

Generally, in the scientific and sports medicine arena, it is agreed that a weak core is an issue. It is increasing, mainly due to the sedentary lifestyles we are living. A weak core increases the potential for injury, especially your lower back.

The core began with a fairly narrow definition from the physiotherapy world, as a small focus area - specifically, abdominal and lower back. This has now been expanded to the broader definition, which I prefer, and it also now includes the muscles around the pelvis, hips and mid-back. Why? These also add as stabilisers around the pelvis and spine/ribs.

It is important to point out that strong 'abs' in the traditional sense, which is a six-pack or the ability to do 100's of sit-ups, doesn't necessarily represent a strong or stable core. The core muscles are the deep stabilisers around the spine and cannot be seen. Please try this quick test:

1. Stand on one leg. Are you stable?

2. If so, then bend the knee you are standing on to squat down. Are you still stable?

3. Try the other leg in both positions. Are you stable?

4. If you had a wobbly knee, loss of balance, unstable hips or leant to one side, then the signs are that your core could be more stable.

A seven-month study at the University of Calgary, actually found that 92% of patients with knee pain, actually had no knee issues present, but were unstable through the core. After a core stability program, they reported that 89% improved after just a four-week program.

To build your core stability, you need to avoid traditional gym exercises, like sit ups and crunches. We want to focus on the deep muscles, not the six-pack muscles, even though these do operate in the hiking position.

So what is the best approach? Have an exercise professional (qualified sports trainer or physiotherapist) assess your strengths and weaknesses and then develop a general program from that screen. Once mastered, you can then move on to more functional movements that mimic what you do in everyday life and in your sport.

I had an interesting discussion on why we see so much back pain, especially in our male sailors aged 35-60 years, with our Australian Olympic Sailing Physiotherapist, Donna White.

Donna said, "I believe that unlike many other sports, such as soccer, football or tennis, sailing has been seen for a long time as a recreational activity and not as a sport, per se. As such, our younger or older sailor tends not to train to maintain fitness and strength. Even though a day on the water competing can take a number of hours of hard physical work and puts incredible strain on the lower back, I rarely see sailors warming up prior to the start of a race or completing a few cool down stretches afterwards. In my experience, sailors rarely think of their own individual technique or posture, the main focus of performance outcome is on the 'fitness' of the boat and how it is tuned to perform, rather than on the crew or themselves."

"I see sailors every day in my clinic who are surprised to learn that they need to warm up their muscles before sailing, or strengthen their back and abdominal muscles, if they aim to hike out of a boat for any length of time, or sheet-on hard. Poor posture and/or technique, combined with poor strength and fitness, would be the most common causes of back pain that I see in sailors. Rarely do I see acute onset pain, with most of the issues having been present for a long time and the warning signs ignored, until they build up and up to the point where they are debilitating", Donna Finished with.

So there you have it from someone really in the know. You do need to ensure that you are in fine fettle, just as you look after the machine on which you take to the water. If you would like some more information from Donna then please contact her practice in Seaforth, Sydney on (02) 9907 0321.


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