Core Stability is More Than a Six-Pack
Your core strength may be more valuable to daily living and our fitness pursuits than we realize. A new review of studies shows that a stable core can help us move efficiently and plays a role in preventing injuries in the legs, hips and buttocks. The review appears this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

We have to think of the core not as an isolated entity, but as one of our fitness links. "We joke about the hip bone being connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone connected to the knee bone, yet that's very true," said the report's lead author, John Willson, a physical therapist at the University of Delaware in Newark.

First, some basics. Know the difference between core stability and core strength. We develop core strength by doing exercises for the muscles of the abs, the back and the hips. But core stability is the interaction of strength and coordination of these muscles when we're moving. Having a strong core is half the equation. The other half is training the mind and body to naturally engage these muscles in everyday activities so that our movements are safe.

"Having strong core muscles doesn't mean you possess core stability," Willson said. "For example, a lot of people who have physical jobs, such as those who do a lot of lifting and bending at work, know to activate certain muscles to stabilize the spine. But they can get hurt by doing something innocuous such as bending to tie a shoe or picking up a pencil because there isn't a trained response there."

There's no shortage of ways to strengthen the core, from abs and back classes to tai chi, Pilates and martial arts. These practices can sometimes help us remember to sit upright or stand taller. But taking the next step is essential, Willson said. We need to make that mind-body connection so that we instinctively and naturally engage our core, use correct posture and maintain healthy body alignment.

And that's easier said than done. Think about how even the fittest among us slouch in our chairs instead of sitting upright. Or how we bend at the waist and hips to pick up objects instead of squatting and using the muscles of the legs and buttocks.

Willson suggests that we learn core stabilization from a trained professional, whether a physical therapist or a personal fitness trainer who has undergone specialized training in this area. They can teach us how core muscles interact and how they should feel when they're being used properly.

The final step is to translate this awareness to everyday activities.

We also can help ourselves by being mindful of our core when we're doing back and abdominal exercises. This means concentrating on getting the form right, rather than getting as many reps in as we can.

To find a physical therapist who can teach core stability, go to www.apta.org and search for a sports-certified specialist near you. To find a personal fitness trainer trained in core stability, go to www.ideafit.com.