Have you looked at your body alignment lately? When you sit in a chair at your desk, are you leaning back or slouching? Are your shoulders rolled forward? Does your head fall forward and backward when you stand or walk? Many people don’t sit or stand with good posture, and most aren’t aware of it.
If the answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” it’s probably because your core muscles are weak. A strong core will help keep your body—particularly the shoulders and spine—in proper alignment while sitting at a desk, walking down the street, or doing any number of activities.
When you have good posture, that means that all parts of the body (from head to toe) are properly aligned. This prevents unnecessary strain on other muscles, tendons, joints, and nerves throughout your body. When your body isn’t in proper alignment, it’s less efficient and has work harder than it needs to—that’s one reason having good posture is so important!
But there are other reasons too. According to Harvard Health, when you maintain a healthy body alignment, it distributes your weight more evenly across your spine. No part of your body is forced to bear more force since everything is properly aligned. This reduces your risk of not just back pain, but also neck strain and pain.
Posture is about more than looking good: it’s a sign of health. When you’ve got your core engaged and balanced, all the muscles work better. When you have good posture, your lungs can inflate more fully, and your digestion improves because your digestive organs are less constricted. It also makes you feel more confident.
The strength of your core muscles play a key role in body alignment and posture. But have you ever wondered why?
Stronger back muscles
A strong core allows you to maintain good posture and sit upright in your chair. When your back muscles and the other muscles that make up your core are weak, you’re more likely to hunch over when you sit or stand to correct strength imbalances. Keeping your back and core muscles strong reduces the burden on other muscles, lessening the chance of strain and injury in any muscle group. For example, when you have a strong core, your abdominal muscles can take more of the load off your back, reducing the chances for tension and pain.
There are other perks to having core strength. A strong core also helps transfer power from your body to the arms and legs, allowing you to move with greater agility without straining back muscles. This is especially important when lifting heavy objects or performing strenuous physical activities that could otherwise cause muscle strain or injury in a weaker person.
Less risk of injury with movement
By having a core that is toned and strong, you are less likely to get injured when performing a wide range of movements. Did you know that your core muscles are involved in nearly every exercise you do? For example, when you squat, your rectus abdominis (abs) and transverse abdominis help stabilize your hips. It’s also a strong core that helps prevent back injuries when you’re deadlifting or rowing.
You might think of core strength as coming from just the muscles around our mid-section, but there are important stabilizing muscles along our spine as well — these are called the erector spinae — which helps protect your back. If you have weak core muscles, basic activities like walking, climbing stairs, running, lifting, or even sitting at a computer becomes riskier and increases your risk of back and neck pain. So, you’re more likely to sustain injuries when you strength train and do basic movements with a weak core. And when you get injured, you could end up with what? Back pain.
A strong core prevents muscle imbalances
If you sit at a desk all day, your hip flexors get tight and your glutes, the opposing muscles weaken. When your hip flexors are tight, it pulls your hip bone forward and hyperextends your lumbar spine. The extra tension this creates on your lumbar spine can lead to lower back pain. Since tight hip flexors are so common in people who sit too much, it’s important to focus on countering the tightness with exercise that strengthen the opposing muscle groups, your hamstrings, and glutes. Therefore, you should include hip thrusts, bridges, and single-leg Romanian deadlifts in your strength-training routine, along with core exercises.
The Bottom Line
One of the best things you can do for the health of your back is to strengthen your core. Some examples of good core exercises are planks, bridges, bird dogs, and supermans. It’s important not to sacrifice form for speed or reps though. When starting with core exercises, aim for between 10-15 reps per exercise or hold them until they burn. You’ll want to work up to 30-60 second holds on each side or exercise (for example planks) before moving on to harder variations like rotating planks or plank ups.
You can incorporate core exercises into your workout routine by doing them as part of your warmup when you train. If you’re new to this kind of training, begin with 1-2 sets per exercise and over time build that up slowly so it becomes part of your regular workouts.
Track your progress, so you know when it’s time to move on to more challenging variations. This will help keep the exercises from becoming stale but also ensure that the soreness isn’t extreme enough for you to avoid exercising altogether because that completely defeats the purpose. Be sure to always warm-up before any kind of physical activity too, especially if you’ll be working with heavy weights.
Once you finish a workout, do a 5-minute dynamic cooldown, and stretch to lengthen the muscles you just worked. Tight muscles also contribute to poor posture. So, don’t forget to stretch!
- “Posture and back health – Harvard Health.” 09 Mar. 2014, https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/posture-and-back-health.
- Augeard N, Carroll SP. Core stability and low-back pain: a causal fallacy. J Exerc Rehabil. 2019 Jun 30;15(3):493-495. doi: 10.12965/jer.1938198.099. PMID: 31316947; PMCID: PMC6614774.
- “Avoid back pain and improve balance by strengthening core ….” 01 May. 2013, https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/avoid-back-pain-and-improve-balance-by-strengthening-core-muscles.