Updated: Apr 13, 2020
As athletes, we hear a lot about our core - that we should be engaging it, strengthening it, etc. - but what muscles make up the ‘core?’ And what's the purpose to strengthening these muscles?
The Muscles of the Core
One major muscle group within the core is your abs, or your abdominals. The most well-known abdominals are the rectus abdominis (the ‘six-pack’ muscle) and the obliques (on the outside of your torso), but a deeper muscle, the transverse abdominis, plays a major role in core and spine stability. We tend to rely on the more superficial muscles, the rectus abdominis and obliques, more than we should, as they are easier to contract than the deeper transverse abdominis (1). In addition to your abdominals, the core also includes deep back muscles. This group of muscles, known as paraspinals, run the length of your back along your spine in order to stabilize it. They support your back and you use them every time you bend, twist, or arch your back.
Another major muscle group that makes up the core is the glutes. We’ve talked a lot about strength and mobility in the glutes for improving your turnout, but the glutes also provide support and stability to your legs, pelvis and trunk.
Core strength is critical to the stabilization of your spine, pelvis, and legs, especially for dancers. According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a lack of core control increases strain on the surrounding bones, joints, and ligaments and has been related to increased risk of injury in the lower back and legs. Since these are common areas of injury for dancers, incorporating core strengthening exercises could play a key role in injury prevention (1). Additionally, weak or underdeveloped core muscles can lead to less efficient movements, especially with movements as complex as Irish dancing. An underdeveloped core can also lead to compensatory mechanisms in your dancing - your body’s way of ‘cutting corners’ around weak muscles to achieve movements like jumps, kicks, and even rhythms - that can lead to strain and overuse injuries (2).
One of these compensations we see commonly in Irish dancers is arched backs. In order to achieve that perfect ‘Irish dance posture,’ dancers often compensate by squeezing their shoulders back so hard that their chest sticks out, their backs arch and their core is compromised. Instead, maintain neutral alignment throughout your trunk by utilizing your core muscles for more strength and stability.
To start strengthening your core, add these two exercises to your training plan!
Start kneeling on all fours, hands directly under your shoulders. Engage your core, then lift up your right leg without rocking your hips back and forth. Hold your leg up, extend your left arm, then bring your knee and elbow together, then extend them back out. Repeat 10 times, then repeat on the other side.
Start laying on your back (supine) and engage your core to keep your back flat on the ground, then lift your legs and shoulder blades off the ground, keeping your legs straight. Start with your legs shooting straight up towards the ceiling, and if that’s too easy, lower them down while keeping your back flat. Hold for 30 seconds.
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1. International Association of Dance Medicine & Science, Education Committee, (2015). Core Control: "Not Just Abdominals." IADMS, retrieved from https://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/211325/Core-Control--Not-just-abdominals?hhSearchTerms=%22core%22&terms=.
2. Fredericson, M. & Moore, T, (2005). Muscular Balance, Core Stability, and Injury Prevention for Middle- and Long-Distance Runners. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 16, 669-689. Retrieved from https://www.pmr.theclinics.com/article/S1047-9651(05)00026-4/abstract.