By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
Our bodies rely on core strength more often than you think. The core muscles aid in stabilizing the spine, which helps maintain a proper body alignment and, with exercise, can essentially reduce injury. By nourishing the core with appropriate conditioning, you take a conscious step in preventing work-related injuries. As firefighters you are lifting heavy equipment, carrying people down ladders and stairs, and performing many actions that require your spine to move in all directions. When your abdominal muscles--your “core” muscles--are not strong, severe strains and back injuries while on the job can result. Core strength is a key component in avoiding these widespread work-related risks.
It is a common misconception that the core strictly consists of abdominal muscles. The fact is the core is the body, excluding the arms and legs. This group of muscles making up the core work together to aid in the static and dynamic movements of the body. The anatomy of the core consists of the rectus abdominus, also known as the “six pack,” which serves to stabilize the core. The obliques assist in the rotation of the torso and work along with the transverse abdominus muscles to support the core during movement. The hip flexors assist the body in flexion, bringing the legs toward the abdomen. The erector spinae are a group of muscles that work together; their main function is to support the vertebrae of the spine. This group of muscles supports your torso when sitting, standing, or climbing stairs and allows the body to rotate freely at various areas of the spine. By strengthening these muscles, you can improve balance, power, and energy. Core strength also helps with the power supplied to your peripheral musculature, the arms and legs. The core makes it possible to support the spine and maintain posture when holding heavy objects and, with the right amount of training, can improve the overall response of the leg and arm reflexes and general body control.
Your spine is the house and protector of your central nervous system. Your spine is holding you upright all day long. It allows you to have the job that you have as a firefighter. You need to take care of your spine by keeping it strong.
Yoga Sit-Ups provide an excellent way to incorporate safe and beneficial techniques to develop a strong core and maintain a healthy spine. We can nourish and strengthen our core muscles and spine with powerful yet simple sit-ups. Remember, yoga means “union.” When doing yoga sit-ups, we are moving in union with the body and the breath. To move easily and effortlessly, keeping your jaw, neck, fingers, and toes relaxed. If at any time it feels uncomfortable, just stop, take a few deep breaths, and start again.
- Begin lying down on your back.
- Bend both knees, feet flat on the floor (knees and feet are wide apart).
- Bring your arms up over your head.
- Take 4-6 deep breaths in and out of your nostrils.
- Exhaling, bring both knees toward your chest and bring your hands around your knees, bringing your forehead toward your knees.
- Inhale; bring both arms over your head and your feet flat on the floor with both knees bent.
- Repeat 10-20 times.
- Bring both knees toward your chest and gently rock to the right and left side.
- Strengthens the core muscles.
- Lengthens and strengthens the lower back.
- Increase blood flow around the thighs and lower back.
- Improves digestion.
- If your knees or lower back bothers you, bring knees toward your chest and gently rock right and left, breathing in and out.
- If your shoulders have any kind of situation or discomfort, bring your arms down by your side. Keep both arms at the same level.
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.