Justin Brothers

Talking Core Strength with Justin Brothers, DPT

Originally posted on WilliamsonSource.com

At some point in our lives, 80% of us will struggle with core muscle issues because of the wear and tear of everyday life. And at any one time, 31 million people will deal with back pain. Core strength is not just about strong abdominal muscles; weak core muscles can cause issues with everything from the back to the foot. Strengthening core muscles helps make everyday activities easier. Additionally, athletes can perform better with a personalized strength program focused on their specific core needs.

Justin Brothers, DPT is a licensed physical therapist with Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee and helps his patients strengthen their core muscles so they can perform better, no matter the task. He developed his passion for fitness, sports, and orthopaedic rehabilitation when he served in the United States Navy as a search and rescue swimmer. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science from Belmont University, and his Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree in 2021.

Williamson Source: People talk a lot about core strength, but what exactly is your core?

Justin Brothers, DPT: There is no overall agreed upon definition of what your core entails, but generally it includes your spine, hips, upper leg, and the muscles around the spine, abdomen, and pelvis. These muscles act as the foundation for all of your body’s movements.

WS: What role does our core play in the body’s movement?

Brothers: Our core stabilizes our bodies as we go from one action to another, be it in our everyday lives or when involved in athletics. It also creates the appropriate amount of rigidity of the spine based on the demands of the task being performed. Our core functions as a means to transfer energy from one area of the body to the other in a coordinated manner.

WS: How does weak core strength affect our bodies?

Brothers: Typically having a weak core manifests as lower back pain, hip pain, or even knee pain. In physical therapy, we can test key muscles to gauge the strength, endurance, and force that core muscles produce. Different positions and activities tell me where the weakness may lie, whether it be the abdomen, lower back, hips, or from the extremities.

Functionally, a weak core can affect bending forward to pick something up off the floor, tying your shoes, moving from sitting to standing, and can mean increased pain at rest or with activity.In sports, weaknesses can be tied to very specific activities, and even to particular positions on a particular team. Each sport, each position, and each activity may have a particular weakness. For example, how a pitcher throws a ball can be affected by their lower extremities, hips, spine, shoulder and/or arm joints and muscles. Issues in these areas can slow velocity, decrease accuracy and cause the pitcher to throw more balls than strikes. It is a problem with the kinetic chain. The kinetic chain in physical therapy refers to the interrelated groups of body segments, connecting joints, and muscles that work together to perform movements and the portion of the spine to which they are connected. The hip/trunk area contributes to a large portion of the kinetic energy and force generated during the entire throwing motion, so a compromised core can have a significant impact on an athlete and their performance.

WS: How does a strong core play out?

Brothers: As core strength builds, the ability to perform functional tasks will increase. For the patient that means being able to do more than before they started core building exercises. It means being able to do more with less or no pain, being less labored, being able to lift more weight, and ultimately having more stamina and functional abilities.

I can help with performance in any sport or any activity by having a client work on their core muscles. It involves creating a specific detailed program for each individual based on their desired outcomes. If a person has good core strength on the front of their trunk, but they want to improve effectiveness, then I look at the rest of the core muscles to see where there is weakness and develop a series of exercises looking at timing and sequencing that will address the weaknesses they have and/or address an action they want to improve.

WS: How do you improve core strength?

Brothers: If I am working with an athlete, different drills brace or contract the core muscles leading to greater body movement and a better transfer of energy. Many techniques can be developed through these drills, which are aimed at a specific action or sets of actions to attain a desired result.

If I was helping a hurdler wanting to improve performance, I would look at drills that would help him or her be able to jump the necessary height of a hurdle and run more efficiently based on the demands and duration of the event. This is also about building endurance. These drills would be very different from those that I would give a pole vaulter who is going for height or a powerlifter trying to improve their one repetition max on a squat or deadlift.

Non-athletes can also strengthen core muscles through a series of exercises that require them to brace the core while doing an activity. They need to be performed on a daily basis. In general, the core can be trained through two qualities: creating movement and resisting movement within the cardinal plane motions of the spine. So bending forward and backward, bending side to side, and rotating left and right. For example, planks are a good exercise to resist extension of the spine, whereas an abdominal curl up is a good exercise for creating a flexion movement of the spine. 

The trick is that there is not one core program that is one size fits all. Each person needs to have their own detailed series of exercises based on their symptoms or needs. There are exercises that are good for one person that do not work for another. This is because the specific underlying conditions or injury that may be causing pain may respond to a specific direction of movement or even a specific type of muscle contraction based on the acuity and irritability of the injury.

Core strength is addressed with everyone who comes to see me, whether they are a young athlete or a senior citizen with back issues. The base of all movement comes from the trunk and goes out to the extremities – hands, shoulders, ankles, and knees. A solid foundation offers stability for building overall strength that can be used in everyday activities or sports.

To learn more about how to build core strength, contact Justin Brothers, DPT with Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee’s Rehabilitation Services. They can be reached at (615) 791-2640.