Earlier this month, we wrote about the importance of core strength for everyday life and the small steps we can all take to help improve our core. And so, to further this discussion, we caught up with Josh at Locomotion. Josh has a wealth of experience in sport and exercise science and is truly passionate about how we can make big changes and differences to our health with even just a small effort…
Josh, can you tell me about your background and what you do at Locomotion?
I studied sport and exercise science at Loughborough University. During my time at Loughborough, I was fortunate enough to secure a placement year role at Tottenham Hotspur FC as a strength & conditioning coach. After graduating, I was offered a place on the MSc Physiotherapy course at MMU but chose to defer my entry in order to take a year out to travel around Australia. I landed a visa sponsored position at a prestigious boxing gym in Melbourne but was forced to step down when the pandemic hit. I fell into a depression for the ~3 months until I had a eureka moment. That eureka moment was Locomotion. I realised that postural pain and discomfort affected almost every person I knew, so I created Locomotion to address the issue.
I now direct Locomotion’s operations in Australia and the UK and hope to expand our operations to Europe and America within the next 3 years.
Let’s take it back to basics. What is the ‘core’ and what does it do for our bodies?
People often mistakenly think the core refers only to the abdominal muscles. While the abdominals are included, many other muscles contribute to form the core. The core refers to the superficial and deep muscles around the mid-section of the body that connect the pelvis, ribs and spine to one another. So not just the abdominal muscles but also muscles in the lower back region, around the rib cage, and deep pelvic muscles.
What function does the ‘core’ perform?
The underlying function of the core is to maintain the structural integrity of the spine. In a simple day-to-day sense, this translates into keeping our spine upright while we walk, sit, run etc. Without the core muscles, we would simply flop over under the force of gravity.
Why do you feel it’s so important to focus on core strength?
The core connects the upper and lower body and as such, it is implicated in practically every movement we make. A stronger core connects and aligns the upper and lower body, whereas a weak core does not. Imagine a rod divided into three sections, with the top and bottom sections made of iron and the middle section made of rubber. Despite the strength of the top and bottom sections, the pliable centre compromises the integrity of the entire structure.
This example is analogous for having a strong upper and lower body but a weak core. If the core is weak, the integrity of the entire body is compromised. Conversely, if the core is strong, the body is supported and able to produce or resist movements at its discretion.
Those with a weak core are more likely to suffer from back pain or hip pain, as their core muscles are unable to maintain healthy alignment between the spine and hips.
How would I know if I have a strong or weak core?
Pain – Those with a weak core will likely suffer from constant dull aches and pains in their back, whereas those with a stronger core will have less severe and less frequent symptoms, as the stronger core can maintain better spinal alignment. If you notice that your lower back gets tight very easily, that’s a strong indicator that your core is weak, as the lower back muscles are doing the lion’s share of the work.
Posture – Those with a weak core are far more likely to present with poor posture (lordosis or kyphosis), whereas a stronger core preserves healthy posture. As well as the obvious cosmetic effects, poor posture can lead to severe and debilitating diseases further down the line. Those with a weak core will also be more prone to falling off balance and lack athleticism, as the core is the stabiliser for our movements.
What are the dangers or risks to our physical health if we don’t have a strong core?
Remembering that the core serves to maintain the structural integrity of the spine helps us understand the implications of a weak core.
In the very short-term, postural issues, such as neck or lower back pain, may be negligible and something a person can persevere through. Pain or discomfort may be dull and persistent, but bearable to begin with.
Yet, over time these postural pains can transform into severe postural dysfunctions, as the spine adapts to the weak core not keeping it properly aligned.
Most severely, a weak core and consequential poor posture can lead to degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis. Both of which are severe and debilitating conditions.
Can you give us some ideas and tips on ways we can strengthen our core (in depth exercises and easy ideas to do at a desk or at home)?
A comprehensive core workout should expose the spine to the full spectrum of unstable motions: extension, rotation and lateral flexion
This can be simply achieved through plank variations!
Traditional Plank (anti-extension)
The plank is perhaps the simplest and most effective core exercises there is.
When in a plank position, gravity is acting to pull our spine down to the ground, e.g. pull our spine into extension. The core musculature must therefore contract in order to stop the spine from extending and remain stable.
Shoulder Taps (anti-rotation)
In a high plank position, we have 4 points of contact with the ground (2 hands, 2 feet). This rectangular base is a stable position, much like how a 4-legged chair finds stability.
Yet, if you swung a hammer and broke off one of the chair’s legs, it would become unbalanced and topple over, as one of its corners of support has gone.
This same imbalance occurs in the shoulder tap exercise. We remove one corner of support from the ground (our hand) and become unbalanced. However, unlike the chair, we have core muscles that contract to resist this unbalancing rotational force and keep our body straight.
Side Plank (anti-lateral flexion)
Planking on our side causes the force of gravity to travel from side to side through our body.
Rather than our gravity pulling our spine down, from back to front, as in a traditional plank, it now pulls our spine to one side – lateral flexion.
In this scenario, the core muscles contract to resist this force and keep the spine straight.
Are there things we can do every day to enhance our core strength and postural health?
First and foremost, being aware of our posture and actively trying to sit/stand correctly can have a huge impact on our postural health and symptoms.
Actively trying to sit upright, with our chin down, shoulders back and core muscles lightly engaged will keep the spine properly aligned and work the core muscles.
Sitting with this perfect posture isn’t realistic for an entire day. However, accumulating lots of 5-10 minute periods of perfect posture throughout the day will have a cumulative effect and strengthen the core muscles overtime.
Pursuing a more active lifestyle through simple measures, like a morning walk or jog, can also have a profound impact on our postural health.
Any exercise engages the core muscles, so daily exercise will, over time, make the core muscles stronger more robust, meaning healthier posture will become a more natural occurrence.
So there you have it! We really shouldn’t underestimate the importance of core health and appreciate how easy it is to improve it simply over time. If you want to learn more, have further questions for Josh, or have feedback after trying some of the ideas above, get in touch! We’d love to hear how you get on.