When you think of core strength what do you picture?
An unobtainable 6 pack or a toned stomach? A bunch of people doing crazy things on large inflatable balls? Something you only seen on athletes or weight lifters?
Many of us are in the dark when it comes to knowing about the core muscles and their importance in the stabilisation of your entire body, and the power house they unleash when trained and used correctly. Our core muscles hold us upright, they hold our organs in place and they stabilise the most important junction of joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons in our body; the pelvis and thoracic spine.
Core stability is essential to your overall health and well being as it’s correct function is linked with digestion and assimilation. It also plays an essential role in the performance of the body during exercise and movement. Whatever your sport, core is key to not only stability but your ability to harness your bodies energy and put it into action.
Think of a strong core as the solid foundation through which power, generated in one region of the body, is transferred to another. It’s our engine room of power.
If you watch any sports person you will see the power harnessed at their core translated into movement. A baseball pitcher is a perfect example; the energy to throw the ball is initiated at his core and is translated across his torso, into his throwing arm and forward.
In swimming, the roll of your body initiated at your core is what drives your shoulder and hip down in perfect unison as you spear forward with your recovering arm. Your spearing arm sends your body’s momentum in the direction of your arm, your ‘power’ is sent forward. For injury free, energy efficient swimming, your endless core power is what you should be harnessing to propel your body forward through the water rather than pulling your way down the pool with your arms.
Without an awareness of core stability and a knowledge of how we can strengthen it, we leave ourselves open to back pain, postural problems and injury in other areas of our body. A weak core can lead to knee, hip, ankle and also neck injuries.
The main player in your core is a deep muscle called the Transverse Abdominus (TVA). The TVA is a large muscle that wraps from either side of your spine, around your torso and connects in the centre of your stomach via fibrous connective tissue (Linea Alba). It links at the top and both to ribs and top of the pelvis and goes deep into the pubis.
The TVA is the heart of your core. It is the most important of all the abdominal muscles, yet it is often the most under trained and under used in many people.
Its importance in pelvic and thoracic spine stability cannot be ignored, and in childbirth it is this muscle that allows women to deliver their babies.
The internal and external Obliques run from ribs to pelvis down the side of your torso and work in concert together to move your body. They stabilise the trunk and protect the back and they are also important for rotation and side flexion of the torso . Finely toned obliques help to slim the waist and give women an hour glass figure.
The Rectus Abdominis or ‘6 pack’ is the most superficial of all the abdominal muscles yet it’s the one we all yearn for! The fact is, we all have a 6 pack, it’s just concealed under a (thick or thin) layer of insulation!
When training, many people on work what they can see in the mirror.
A typical example is the big guy in the gym who looks amazingly toned and muscular but suffers from lower back pain. He’s working on the final coat of paint to his house while it’s built on foundations of quick sand.
So how do you know if you’re engaging your TVA?
In order to know whether you are contracting the correct muscles, you need to be able to feel them working. This is harder with the TVA than other muscles due to its position deep within your pelvis torso.
The best way to locate and feel the TVA engage is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your two fingers on the bony parts at the front of your hips (iliac crest). Move your fingers in 2cms towards your belly button and 2cms down towards your pubic bone. You should now be directly over the transverse abdominis muscle.
Take a deep breath in and as you exhale focus on visualise drawing your belly-button towards the floor. Feel for a contraction of the TVA with your fingers as your spine is moves down. You can also place one hand under your back, in line with the belly button, to feel the pressure as you contract your core muscles. Ensure you aren’t pushing into the floor with your heels and that the rest of your body stays relaxed.
Practice contracting these muscles for 10 second intervals, resting in between, and build up to a minute before you move onto other core stability exercises. Again, remember to breathe normally through all the exercises.
You’re probably thinking, how can these small movements make any difference to such a huge muscle?
That’s one of the myths around core exercises, you don’t need to do 100 painful sit ups to have a rock solid core. In fact if you suffer from back problems, sit ups with a weak core are a sure way to hurt yourself. The fact that these muscles are so easy to exercise, without sweating it out in the gym, is one of the greatest reasons for strengthening them.
These visualisation techniques take some time to perfect. Once you are aware of your core, you can begin to work on strengthening it and engaging it throughout the day.
Once your core is stable you can start to integrate it into movement patterns that are more functional for your body. These should be based on the movements you need to do everyday (picking up your kids or the shopping, reaching for things high up, jumping, bounding, twisting and reaching etc), movements required for your chosen sport, and the bodies natural memory for movements it’s done since you were a child. Your bodies muscle memory responds well to these movements and results can often be gained quickly.
Be mindful of the muscles doing the hard work of keeping you upright and stable. The stability of these muscles will unlock the potential energy stored in your core, enabling you to harness it and use it powerfully.
To find out more about strengthening core stability contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0420 923 067.