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5 Signs Your Core is Weak – And What You Should Do About It!

A strong, healthy core isn’t marked by chiseled abs or a thin waist- in fact, the abdominal muscles are just a small part of a much larger system. The muscles in your back, your glutes, trunk, and stomach all work together to keep your spine safe and your movements effective. If any of the following phenomena ring true for you, it’s likely that your core is weak and it’s time to get serious about strengthening those muscles – properly.

(If you are looking for a program right here in Portsmouth, NH that teaches you how to strengthen your core the right way- then be sure to check out our Pilates 101 programs by clicking here.)

1. Your Back Hurts

The most common side effect of a weak core is back pain, and yet most people still don’t consider core strengthening as a way to address those problems. Your core’s job is to support your spine and act as the center from which all movement stems. If those muscles are not properly conditioned – meaning, if they aren’t conditioned to engage when they are supposed to – your spine is at risk for damage, and muscular strain and tension is inevitable. The pain will most likely occur in your lower back, but can even occur in your neck, and can make simple tasks like bending, lifting, and walking totally miserable for you.

2. You Have Poor Balance

This may not be an obvious one – but one of the main culprits to poor balance is a weak core!  Your core muscles help to stabilize your pelvis and a stable pelvis allows you to have better balance.  If the muscles around your pelvis, particularly your glutes, are weak then your balance will undoubtedly be affected. This may not be an issue that you notice.  In fact, you may be so used to living with a weak core that you’re just accustomed to imbalance, and can compensate for it with other muscle and strategies.  But next time you’re walking across an icy driveway, you’re going to wish that your balance was at 100%.  Having a strong, coordinated, and engaged core helps your body to be able to quickly react to balance challenges, and keeps you from falling or hurting yourself!  If you continue to rely on compensation strategies for good balance, eventually they fail – so taking some time to properly strengthen your core is key.

3. You Always Slouch

Most people struggle to maintain good posture when they have a weak core. It’s so easy to slouch, you may not even realize you’re doing it until you start being mindful of your body.  Observe your posture right now. Are your shoulders rolled forward? Is your back missing its natural inward curve through the spine? When you adjust your posture, does it feel difficult or tiresome to maintain? If so, your core needs strengthening!  A lot of people will argue that core strength has nothing to do with your posture.  But here’s the thing, a strong core won’t preventyou from having poor posture, but poor posture will actually start to feel uncomfortable for you and less “natural” when your core is strong, conditioned, and naturally engaged.

4. You’re always “tweaking” or “straining” something

Because of the popularity and marketability of workouts that claim to give you six pack abs or amazing glutes, we sometimes forget that without a true, strong core – these workouts won’t be possible!  Eventually, your body will break down because it doesn’t have a strong foundation (your core!). Every activity, from throwing a ball for your dog to climbing stairs, is affected by the strength or weakness of your core. If you have a weak core, you’re more likely to strain muscles in your arms and legs.  I’ve actually seen a lot of knee and elbow problems that relate back to weakness in the core. If you feel like you exercise all the time but don’t seem to actually be getting stronger (aka – you keep tweaking or injuring yourself), then there is a very good chance that your core is weak!

5. You Dread Planks or Push ups

Both planks and push-ups are a great test of your core strength. A lot of people think of these more as arm exercises – but here’s a little hint – if you feel like all you are doing is strengthening your arms with these moves – then you definitely aren’t engaging your core!  If you’re still unsure as to how much work you need to put into building core strength, try holding a plank while taking 10 full deep breaths.  You should be able to maintain your plank for all the breaths without letting your back arch and certainly without feeling any back pain or tension.  If you can’t, don’t feel bad- it just means you have the opportunity to get stronger!

Even if you can hold the plank, you’re in great shape, and you never have back pain, core strengthening is still important. But odds are you’re like the rest of us, and do experience at least one of these signs of a weak core. Don’t worry! There are tons of ways to engage those muscles consistently and build strength. Our personal favorite is Pilates! Pilates is a movement system designed specifically to strengthen the whole body, starting with the core. It promotes spine health and has helped relieve a lot of back pain for many of our clients! In fact, we’re reopening our signature Pilates 101 program in January 2018. If you’re anywhere near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and want to learn more about the program, click here. Spaces are limited in order to provide each participant the personalized attention and instruction they deserve, so don’t miss your chance to sign up! We’d love to see you!

Five Ways to Keep Your Back from Going Out this Holiday Season

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyful, relaxing time, but the reality is that sometimes it’s much more stressful than we’d like. Between family gatherings, shopping, travel, and the disruption of your normal routine, it can be easy for your back to suffer. Here are our tips for staying pain-free this holiday season!

1. Don’t Sit or Stand Too Long

Experts agree that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to overall health and well-being. Staying still for too long will make you stiff and could eventually lead to muscle spasms and cause injury. Take time during those long family meals to get up and walk around.  Too much sitting, in particular, has become widely known to cause problems with your back and eventually lead to debilitating episodes.  Read more about that here.

2. Minimize Stress

A stressed mind inevitably leads to a stressed body. When you’re experiencing stress, your muscles tense, especially in your neck and back. It also leads to more “stress hormones” flowing through your body (known as cortisol) which can result in muscle soreness and pain. There are several easy ways to decrease stress without avoiding those important family activities and shopping trips! You can start with simple gratitude exercises. Making your first words of the day a statement of gratitude can make a huge difference in your perspective and how you approach the day. Writing these “gratitudes” down and collecting them is also an awesome way to stay mindful of what’s important to you, and can help you let go of the things that are bothering you. Positive thinking and deep, measured breaths throughout the day’s activities could be the best gift you give yourself this holiday season!

3. Watch Your Posture

Be mindful of your posture and body mechanics while wrapping presents, lifting them in and out of the car, and decorating the tree. All of this bending and lifting can take a big toll on your back. Many people throw out their backs lifting because they aren’t using a safe technique to do so, or they don’t know how to properly engage their core muscles. It’s important to lift with your legs, not with your back, and to NEVER hold your breath. Otherwise you could do significant damage over time to the muscles and connective tissue in your spine, thus limiting your mobility, causing pain and discomfort, and increasing the chances you will “throw your back out”.

4. Make Time to Move

The holiday season can be incredibly busy, but it’s important to give yourself time to move. Taking a group walk outside is a good way to spend time with family and friends while still staying active and healthy. There are also plenty of simple in home exercises you can spread throughout your day. Five minutes of stretching or light exercise every couple hours will leave you way more relaxed, limber, and prevent back pain. If you’re looking for an exercise program that will keep you in shape and help you with chronic back problems, check out our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program starting in January 2018!

5. Travel Right

Many of us travel during the holidays, which can be a major stressor and lead to back pain. Whether you are traveling by car or plane, you will be sitting for long periods of time in a cramped space. It’s important to take frequent breaks in order to stretch your muscles and prevent joint stiffness. Even if you’re flying, you can get up and walk the length of the plane to the bathroom and back- enough to stretch out and get your blood flowing. In your seat, be mindful of your posture and be intentional about stretching your neck, arms, and ankles. Be sure to bring a blanket or dress in layers as well- planes are generally chillier than most people find comfortable, and cold air makes your muscles tense up. Staying warm will keep you relaxed and pain free!  You can also use your extra layers to throw behind your back to use as a make-shift lumbar roll or pillow.  Having something that acts like a lumbar support behind you while sitting minimizes the load on your spine.

We hope you take good care of your back this holiday season, but if you run into any trouble, give us a call at 603-380-7902 or send an email to info@cjphysicaltherapy.edarci.com. You can learn more about all of our specialized Pilates programs that are specifically designed for back-pain sufferers here and stay in touch via Facebook for more helpful information just like this. We’re here to help!