Friday, May 20, 2011

DAY 229 - Core Strengthening: Close but Not the Whole Story

photo courtesy istolethetv
Core strengthening has been such a hot topic in the fitness world for many years. And no question, there is value to it. But, like most things in the universe, just a little closer look affords us more of what we dearly want.

One definition of core strengthening is “the balanced development of the deep and superficial muscles that stabilize, align, and move the trunk of the body, especially the abdominals and muscles of the back.”

Low back pain may be the most common reason that individuals seek to strengthen their core.

Now, let’s break it down.

There is nothing more “core” to the torso than the digestive tract. Though most advocates of core strengthening are focused on skeletal muscle function, it is critical to understand that the muscles of the back and abdomen are markedly influenced by the function of the digestive tract through neural pathways referred to as viscerosomatic reflexes. When the digestive tract is distressed by food allergies, constipation, antibiotics, imbalanced gut flora, or spinal joint aberrations, muscles of the back and abdomen are negatively affected, and pain can result.

Strength is not all it is cracked up to be. Many remember in their youth, their first exposure to martial arts, and their amazement at seeing larger, stronger opponents thrown to the mat by smaller, weaker individuals who had mastered greater skill. Ultimately, the greatest function in the torso is attained through integration and coordination of all components, visceral and skeletal.

It is often overlooked that during “core strengthening”, at least two other beneficial influences are being affected on the back and torso. While performing strengthening exercises, spinal dynamics are improved as a result of vertebral joints being moved through ranges of motion, and the digestive tract is benefited by contraction and relaxation in the abdomen which improves movement of the contents through the tract.

While some folks exercise the heck out of their abs and back muscles, and have their back pain go away, others will get no relief, and neither group will necessarily be exploring their gut core. I have had the opportunity to evaluate a number of patients who swore that core strengthening had taken care of their back problems. Clearly, for some of them it did reduce or resolve their pain. But it was obvious during physical examination that many had excessively tight back muscles, stiff spinal joints, and a gut that was tender to touch.

My advice to all would be to remember that coordinated, fluid motion trumps strength; and if you want to get to the core of back pain, or any other health problem, don’t forget your gut, it affects everything.

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