Many people work their core with the goal of toning their abs, but a strong core is important in performing everyday movements correctly and helping to prevent injuries and falls. The core lies at the center of the body, including the back, the abdominals and the hips, and it provides us with balance and stability. The core muscles connect the upper and lower parts of our body, which means that without a strong core it becomes more difficult to move with ease.
Curious if your core needs some work? There are some signs to look out for. You may notice minor instances of pain that actually signal a weak core. Here are four signs that you may need to prioritize core strength. Use these signals as a wake-up call to focus on incorporating core work into your routine.
Your low back always aches
Your abs support your back and spine, meaning that without strong abdominals, your back is forced to work harder. If your abdominals are weak, you are likely relying too heavily on your back muscles for activities that are usually covered by your abs. Working on strengthening your core muscles may help decrease your back pain.
When I was a kid, I used to cry after emptying the dishwasher. My low back hurt so badly from leaning over and not engaging my abs during this motion. This pain was my first sign that I needed to work on my core, but at age 11, I didn’t even know what my core was! It wasn’t until my early 20s that it all made sense and I was able to eliminate my back pain by strengthening my core with a Pilates practice.
Your back hurts when doing laundry or lifting something heavy
Doing laundry is a drag for most of us, but with back pain, it’s more than just a chore. The constant bending up and down and carrying heavy loads can cause serious strain to your back.
Instead of overusing your back muscles, and feeling strain and fatigue during these activities, your core should kick in and take some of the brunt of these movements. If you feel achy or sore after doing a load or two, try pulling your naval in towards your spine to engage your core during the movement. Strengthening your core with strength-training exercises or Pilates workouts will also help develop your core strength.
You may also feel a similar pain after lifting a heavy box or carrying a child. You can blame weak core muscles for this, too.
You feel stiff when you get off the couch or out of bed
Feeling stiff after standing up may be a sign of poor posture, and poor posture usually has to do with a lack of core strength. If you feel stiff or struggle to straighten your back fully when standing up, you likely have a weak core. Your core muscles help you stand up straight throughout the day, so without them, you may feel like slouching.
Focus on exercises that strengthen your core muscles and keep your posture intact. Exercises like cobra, the Pilates roll down, and mountain pose in yoga help with proper alignment and core engagement.
Back pain travels down your leg (sciatica)
If you have a weak core, your ab muscles cannot successfully support your spine. Because of this lack of support, there’s more pressure on the spine and back during everyday activities. This increased pressure can result in sciatica, or back pain that travels down your leg.
Working the muscles along the inner thighs, which are part of the core, can be helpful here. Performing bridge pose in yoga while squeezing a block in between your thighs, or performing Pilates warm up exercises like pelvic tilt can help alleviate some of this pain. There are also great stretches to help with sciatica — as well as to help relieve back pain and stiffness. So a regular stretch routine, in addition to core work, is a smart way to help to alleviate these everyday aches and pains.