Sometimes in the health and fitness industries, something becomes such a phenomenon or trend that we all rush to jump on the band wagon before we really understand why we are making that leap. The concept of core stabilization is by no means new but still somehow seems to be misunderstood or even worse, not understood at all.
There have been many occasions when a client comes into see me for post-natal issues or low back pain, totally confused as to why their core training is not working. In most cases when I ask them to explain what they have been doing they stare back at me blankly or they show me an abdominal exercise.
This example is not restricted those new to fitness. I have treated Olympic athletes unable to identify their core properly. There have even been studies that show when health care professionals, who teach core stabilization, are asked to recruit those same muscles while visualizing them via real time ultrasound, they are incapable of properly recruiting their core muscles. No wonder everyone is so confused.
The unfortunate side of this story is there are a lot of amazing resources that exist but unfortunately hold little value if we can’t comprehend why we are using them. In other words, you probably won’t stabilize that diastasis recti post baby or minimize that low back disk bulge if you can’t feel the muscles you are trying to activate no matter how good the Pilates class or instructional video.
Let’s simplify. Let’s strip things back to before core stabilization reached the popularity tipping point when we all became too embarrassed to ask what it actually is and why we are talking about it. In this particular blog, let’s discuss what actually constitutes the evasive core and why that might be important so that in future blogs we can figure out how to use it properly.
What the heck is my core?
Contrary to popular belief it is not your abdominals. Well it is, but not exclusively. Clear as mud? Stick with me.
Your core is actually a group of four different muscles or groupings of muscles that work together to form a cylinder that braces the abdominal cavity and low back. Activating them together helps to create a tension that stabilizes your low back and spine to prevent injury.
These four muscles are:
- Transversus Abdominus: This is the deepest of your four abdominal muscles. It runs from your rib cage and pelvis and wraps around your back. Think of it as a natural built in back brace. I get pretty excited when I talk about this muscle because it is so cool – yes I am a huge nerd. When working properly, this guy anticipates your movement from the message sent from your brain before you even move. It activates and protects your back without your conscious thought.
- Multifidus: If transversus is the brace, than multifidus is the zipper in the back that holds the brace tight. It lies on either side of your spine braided across several levels. Studies have shown that when unused this muscle can lose significant size within 48 hours. This is a large part of why back pain is no longer treated with bed rest.
- Pelvic Floor: This group of muscles is floor of the core and literally holds things in (think #1 and #2). It is often how we will cue you to contract the core muscle group and is probably the most mechanically affected by child birth. Your doctor wasn’t kidding when he told you to do those kegels ladies.
- Diaphragm: The diaphragm seals the top of the core but also offers stability to the mid back and has several important connections that help to tension the rest of the core. Breath is a big part of core training partly because of the diaphragm’s role.
Ok, so now you know what the core actually is but here are some cool facts which will help you see why it is so important.
- Our core is our source of power and stability. It will in fact make you run faster, lift more, balance easier and power that golf drive further.
- A strong core is key in preventing back injury and degeneration. Awful fact: we all start to degenerate after age 20 (YIKES) – a strong core will help to slow that process.
- In many cases incontinence can be treated with core strengthening. 60% of us who exercise regularly will experience incontinence at some point. No one likes to pee their pants – just saying.
- When the body is experiencing dysfunction, the core can lose the ability to provide stability similar to blowing a fuse. It is only through active retraining that core starts to engage regularly again without conscious effort.
On that note, stay tuned for the next blog in the series when we explain how to properly activate the core.