Everyone seems to be trying to work their core these days, but many are unclear as to exactly what their core actually is. Today, I hope to give you more insight into this topic as well as provide you with a visualization of your core and the associated actions of your core muscles.
The core is the midsection and the support structure for every step, every reach, and every twist of our body. It surrounds and supports the spine. So, for starters, visualize your spine. Think of it as several building blocks stacked, one on top of the other, with the responsibility of supporting the very heavy and very active shoulders, arms, and head. With this thought, you can begin to understand the inherent instability of our spine and why back pain is so prevalent. The major support structures for the spine are the muscles attached to it, otherwise known as the core muscles. They react like guide wires, pulling, twisting, and stabilizing, allowing only specific segments to move while others hold on tight.
These stacked building blocks that make up our spine are also affected by the movement and position of our hips and legs, adjusting to every step, turn, and squat. Given that, it is truly amazing that we remain upright, as our spine works to accommodate all these forces.
Our core muscles make this all possible and become even more important as we dance, run, jump, swing a bat, or kick a ball. Some of the more important muscles of our core that provide this stability are our transversus abdominus muscle, our lower back muscles, our oblique muscles, our quadratus lumborum muscles, our pelvic floor muscles, and our diaphragm.
Below is some detail on each of the mentioned muscles, to give you an idea of how they work:
- Transversus abdominus muscle – tightens around our lower back like a back brace or a corset, cinching up our midsection.
- Lower back muscles – these muscles include our multifidi muscles and are found in between each spinal segment, controlling small movements and stabilizing each segment; and our erector spinae muscles, which are the bigger layers of muscles that run up and down our spine, move and support bigger segments.
- Oblique muslces – tighten around our spine in a diagonal pattern.
- Quadratus lumborum muscles – help to enclose the sides of our abdomen.
- Pelvic floor muscles – these muscles are actually the floor of our abdomen, working to support our abdominal organs against the force of gravity.
- Diaphragm – the muscle that forms the top, or the roof of our abdominal core, affecting the intra-abdominal pressure as we breathe, talk and laugh.
All of these muscles play an important role in stabilizing our spine, and strengthening them will give you a strong core. For those of you who have worked through pilates or yoga instruction, all of these terms should be familiar to you. Most of these classes will instruct you to strengthen and stabilize from the inside out, focusing on the first movement of pelvic floor elevation, all while continuing a steady breathing pattern. If you have not been able to attend a pilates or yoga class in your area, I strongly recommend you start, or if you prefer to work out in your own home, work out with our Hab It: Pelvic Floor DVD to direct your focus on the right muscles!