Ice and snow are a real possibility in Portland every winter. While it may not be consistent, snow can come out of nowhere and catch us off guard. Combine that with our lack of experience in such conditions and it becomes even more important. Be prepared with a strong core to avoid injury. Whether your shoveling snow or hitting the slopes your core is key to staying healthy.
Signs You Need To Strengthen Your Core
Weak core muscles can cause back pain, as well as increased risk of injury. The following are some common signs that you have a weak core that’s in need of strengthening.
- Lower back pain – The first sign of weak core muscles is lower back pain. Low back pain can be caused by other issues such as pre-existing injury, but it’s the first sign of a weak core.
- Poor posture – If practicing good posture is tiring, chances are you have a weak core. Slouching when you sit isn’t just a habit. If sitting up straight causes your lower back and abdominal muscles to get tired, you probably have a weak core.
- Bad balance – Most of your balance while standing comes from your feet, hips, and core. Testing your balance could help you identify whether or not strengthening your core should be a priority. If poor posture and lower back pain are both present, bad balance will further indicate your core weakness.
- General weakness – Muscular weakness is identified when you have to strain for certain movements that shouldn’t require strain. Extreme weakness can be identified if bending over, reaching, or twisting motions cause strain. Moderate weakness can be identified if strain occurs when performing a throwing or kicking motion. If mild exercise leaves your lower back or abdominal muscles feeling sore, chances are you have some moderate muscular weakness. Mild weakness in your core might go unnoticed until you go snowboarding for the first time in the season. If you’re curious about other signs you may have a weak core, there are a lot of great resources online for you to do more research.
Passivly Strengthening Your Core
Here are a few simple techniques to engage your core and build strength during everyday activities. Much of your day is spent sitting or walking without being conscious of your core muscles. Simply engaging your core while sitting & walking can go a long way in improving your core strength. A little bit goes a long way. This conscious effort can have lasting impacts. Whether you’re walking or sitting while doing this mindful exercise the steps are relatively similar:
- Focus on your position. If you’re sitting focus on how your glutes are positioned under you, how your hips are positioned, how your back feals, etc. If you’re standing/walking make sure your feet are parallel to each other, focus on balance as you move.
- Focus on your back and shoulders. Don’t overcompensate bad posture by pulling your shoulders back too far or arching your lower back more than normal. A good queue for good posture is to lift your chest. This will align your shoulders in the correct position and prompt your back to the correct position.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and keep them tight. If you’re sitting and feel comfortable with some movement, lean to the front, back, and sides ever so slightly. You should be able to feel the different muscles in your core engage as you do. Being mindful of which muscles are necessary for those movements is important. As you build a mind-muscle connection you should be able to engage those core muscles more easily and improve your core strength over time. If you’re walking the act of moving through space while engaging your core will force muscles to contract in different ways, ensuring that your core strengthens. If you’re feeling extra enthusiastic about strengthening your core while sitting there are some great guides online that include some extra movements.
Actively Strengthening Your Core
Engaging your core while passively doing other things like sitting (working) and walking is great, but actively strengthening your core is much more productive. Yoga exercises are a great way to do this with minimal risk of injury. Whether your a yoga novice or an expert these exercises should be pretty easy to do and will strengthen your core.
- Plank – Get in a push-up position and push up. Make sure your shoulders are over your wrists. Position your hips so that your body is in a straight line. Bring your head into that same straight line. Engage and tighten your thighs, abdomen, and arms. Hold that pose for as long as you feel comfortable. This is a plank. As you If this pose is too difficult at first, start with your knees on the floor and move up from there.
- One Leg Plank – If planks have become too easy for you a one leg plank ads more weight to your arms and the leg that stays down. This exercise will strengthen your core in different ways than a basic plank and can be good for improving your core strength for movements that require twisting of the torso.
- Table Top – This basic pose is the foundation for some great core exercises. It starts by positioning yourself on your hands and knees and making your back flat like a table top. From here raising your hands & feet and through various reaching motions can create some excellent core strengthening exercises. There are dozens of table top variations to include in your workout. Just remember to start slow and work at your own pace. Don’t cause an injury while trying to prevent an injury. This is also a good position to be in if you want to incorporate a cat pose or dog pose
- Plank with Knee to Nose – Start in plank position. Bend your left leg at the hip and knee bringing your knee toward your face. Press your right heel back and into the ground as you lift your left knee. Try to keep that straight plank line steady as you do this motion. Hold the pose with your knee as close to your face as is comfortable for 3-5 breaths. Then switch sides.
- Chair Pose – If you’ve ever done a squat this is a very similar motion. Squatting your body weight is a great exercise for your core as well but this movement involves a little extra. To build balance this exercise is typically done with your feet together. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, start with your feet at about shoulder width. Once you’re in position to start, bend your knees until you’re almost in a seated position. As you do this push your hips back and bring your torso forward to balance yourself. If your legs are weak, you may find this difficult. That’s okay. Work up to the fully seated position as you get stronger. There are several variations to this exercise but this is a great place to start for good core strength.
- Bridge – Lie on your back and bend your knees, walking your feet up toward your hips. Press down with your feet and lift your hips off the floor. You should feel the muscles of your posterior chain engage. Your glutes, hamstrings, and back muscles will all engage in this static pose. If you’re feeling adventurous, walk one leg out at a time and lift it extending your toes. Make sure to use your arms and hands to stabilize your balance in this exercise.
Stay Safe, Have Fun
Core strength improves balance and support, two factors key to maintaining good spine health. As the weather, and your activities, become more hazardous it’s important to ensure your core strength is where it needs to be to avoid injury. Having good balance will help you avoid falling when on ice or walking in snow. Having good strength and support will ensure that your muscles handle the load rather than your joints and spine. We hope you stay safe this winter and don’t get hurt.
If you’re interested in learning more about exercises and stretches that you can do to prevent injury we have some good additional reading for you. For the information we don’t have we’ve linked to a few resources below that we’ve found to be very helpful.
- Stretches for relieving back pain caused by having a desk job.
- Professional drivers have to sit for long periods of time. Here are some great stretches and exercises to avoid back pain.
- It’s winter now, but soon it will be summer. The heat comes with its own considerations. Here are some tips for how to avoid injury in the heat.
- Likewise, if you’re training for a big race, be mindful of your body and what it needs to succeed. Here are some tips for how you can get ready for the race.
- My Fitness Pal has a great blog as well as a great app that helps you track your fitness goals and their blog has a lot of great information about core strength.
- Heath Status has some really informative health and fitness guides as well, especially about strengthening a weak core.
- A couple of our favorite resources also include Weight Watchers and LiveStrong which both have a massive library of health and fitness advice.