The journey to the center of our bodies. What on earth is the core?
“Today class, our experiment is to stay in the gym for 12 hours and ask every person what their goals are.” A landslide will mention “core” “abs” “stomach.” It is our obsession. Another experiment is to watch any informercial, pushing an obscure fitness product, and see how many times they mention “core” or “abs.” I’ll be willing to bet its more times than they mention anything nutrition related. I mean why eat well when you can do crunches, situps and use the shake weight and get ripped. That is until you realize you have to do 250,000 crunches, JUST to burn enough calories to lose one pound of fat…YES just one pound. You can do crunches until you are blue in the face but it won’t eliminate your stomach fat. And on a side note, whatever new product is out there, it won’t speed the results up any faster. So why do we do crunches? Well duh, its to get an 8 pack!
Abs are made in the kitchen, no matter how hard you work your “abs” you cannot outwork your diet. If your nutrition is not up to par, your stomach will not be either. “So what is the core?” “Why do we have to work it?” “How do we work it?” I answer all of the above!
Lets start with what the “core” actually is. The National Academy of Sports Medicine defines it as the Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar spines and also the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip complex (stabilizes the body during weight bearing functional movements producing and reducing forces). WHAT? Time for an anatomy lession! PS do not fall asleep, it gets better.
- Rectus abdominus- The “abs.” A key postural muscle that flexes the lumbar spine and can aid in respiration
- Erector spinae- lower back muscles that extend the vertebral column
- Multifidus- deep musculature that runs from the base of the cervical spine to the sacrum. Main job is the stabilize vertebrae in the vertebral column during movement
- Internal Oblique-Compresses abdomen; unilateral contraction rotates vertebral column to same side
- External Oblique-rotates the torso
- Quadratus Lumborum-Alone, lateral flexion of vertebral column; Together, depression of thoracic rib cage
- Transverse Abdominus- compresses abdomen
“Professor Bowen, I am bored!” I hear you! But here is the point, the “core” is not a set one muscle group, it is alot of muscles acting together. Muscles do not move independently, they move in conjuction with each other. Which is why if you are only doing crunches to work your core you are leaving a host of muscles out of the equation. Is it wrong or a bad movement? No. Are there better exercises? Yes! In fact, a little known fact about how our anatomy works is the best way to load (add resistance) our core is not through flexion (bending at the hips) it is through extension (bending backwards). How is this? Here is how:
See the musculature at left. If you look there is a line of muscles that run from the top of your foot all the way to the top of your head. These are called myofascial lines, myo=muscle fascial=fascia or connective tissue. These lines of muscles move in harmony together. Injure one and the chain of muscles cannot act the same thus creating compensation. Do you consider your arms as part of the “core”? Probably not, but make your abs nice and soar and try placing your hands over your head. What happens? Your abs feel that movement. This is why target a specific muscle is impossible, work one and you are assured to work others. What you’ll notice is the way to load (add resistance) to these muscles is through extension instead of flexion. Essentially, our abs are best worked the opposite way we have been working them for years. From a functional stand point, we load and unload these lines of muscles everyday without knowing it. So why not work these muscles out the way they were intended? Probably because no one ever does. So let me show you some examples (I am not good with technology, so forgive me!)
With use of a kettlebell, the client loads the frontal line and lateral lines (as well as few others) starting in an extended posture to laterally flexing at the hips with the oppposite arm touching the floor. The secret here is to make sure you keep the eyes looking at the kettlebell at all times (take your eye off of it and it will bite you).
Again, the point here is to show you how the “core” is loaded differently than we thought. Here the client is moving and extending at the hips to throw the VipR. Here we are loading the frontal line as well as alot of muscles .
Client is now in a russian twist position, extending at the arms (not the waist) loading the fascial and muscle tissue laterally. Great exercise for the obliques but obviously loads several different muscle chains.
Another example of going from hip flexion to hip extension, loading the front lines (also loading the hips). This is a great exercise for warming the lower body at the same time increasing the metabolic demand on the body.
The final exercise is called the quadreped. This exercise can be use in helping people with lower back pain. The directions at the bottom explain the proper technique that is involved.
- Assume the start position as shown in Figure 6.
- With the spine in neutral alignment, take a deep breath in and allow your belly to drop toward the floor.
- Exhale and draw your navel in toward your spine as far as you can. Once the air is completely expelled, hold the navel toward your spine for ten seconds, or as long as you comfortably can without taking a breath (not longer than ten seconds). Throughout the breathing pattern, keep your spine motionless.
- This process should be repeated ten times to complete a set.
- Rest one minute after completing one set. As you are able, build up to completing three sets of the exercise.
Volume 1 is now complete; we have discussed functional anatomy, the myofascial lines, and demonstrated several exercises. Volume 2 will be about how to design an effective program for your core.