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A former trainer on "Biggest Loser" and the creator of Total Body Workout DVDs, Dothard has made core training a priority at Fit Family for more than a decade and urges nurses to focus on core strength to help them meet the physical demands of the job without courting injuries...
A study from the journal Sports Health also hailed the benefits of core stability, saying "multifaceted prevention programs including core stabilization exercises appear to be effective at reducing lower extremity injury rates.... Substantial evidence exists demonstrating core muscle recruitment alterations in low back pain (LBP) patients compared with healthy controls."
To tap those benefits for yourself, either with a trainer, in a class or on your own, first focus on understanding what the core is and how it affects your every motion, Harvard Medical School urged.
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"Whether you're hitting a tennis ball or mopping the floor, the necessary motions either originate in your core, or move through it," the HMS health website explained. "Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function. And that saps power from many of the moves you make. Properly building up your core cranks up the power. A strong core also enhances balance and stability. Thus, it can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities. In fact, a strong, flexible core underpins almost everything you do."
And it's not only work that involves lifting, twisting or standing that becomes easier with core strength, HMS added. "Less obvious tasks like sitting at your desk for hours engage your core as well. Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you're not strong enough to practice good posture and aren't taking sufficient breaks."
Core muscle strength comes to the rescue here, too, according to Harvard. "Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence. More importantly, it lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply. Good posture helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, too."
Exercises for core strength
Yes, you'll still need aerobic exercise: Core strength training will never be a substitute for that. But the Mayo Clinic recommended combining such swimming or Zuumba classes "with exercises that strengthen and stretch your back muscles and abdomen."
A good place to start is with some of the exercises firefighters use for core conditioning. Firefighters share many job-related risks for injury and stress with nurses, and Wisconsin firefighter and training officer Aaron Zamzow recommended these exercises in Firehouse for people who want to build core strength and avoid back injuries and strengthen their spines:
Half-kneeling hip flexor stretch
"Always try to start workouts with this exercise," Firehouse recommended. "The hip flexors are a group of muscles that connect your femur (thigh bone) to your pelvis (hip bone) and lower back." Do this first, Milwaukee physical therapist Luis Rivera told Firehouse. “Tight hips inhibit your glutes from firing, which puts a lot of strain on the back,” he says. “Stretching the hip flexor helps to activate the glutes and opens the hips.”
The name is not coincidental. You will look like a dead bug flailing around, but it's important, Rivera added. "Often athletes cannot raise their arms overhead or move their hips without engaging or arching the muscles of the lower back, which places undo stress on the spine. The Dead Bug fixes these issues by teaching you to isolate movement at the hips and shoulders without moving your spine."
Don't overlook the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus when you're striving for core fitness, Rivera advised. "Individuals with weak glutes are more susceptible to back injury because the muscles of the low back must compensate. This compensation can lead to pain and injury if not addressed. Rivera explains: “The muscles of the glutes ... help control movements of the torso, pelvis, hips and legs, so it is imperative that they are working properly.”