Understanding the Core

Every few years, a new exercise fad enters the mainstream fitness venue. While some trends come and go, the concept of core stabilization is here to stay. There is, however, some confusion about the true meaning of the word core.

The Core of the Matter
Some people use the word core to refer to the strengthening of the trunk in order to promote a stable base for the rest of the body. Unfortunately, the idea of the stable base is often misinterpreted as stiff or rigid. In physiotherapy, the phrase “core stabilization” relates to the activity of the deepest muscles in your body. These muscles are often referred to as your intrinsic muscles, or as your inner unit.

Introducing Your Core Muscles
The transversus abdominus is the major muscle responsible for core stabilization. As the deepest of all abdominal muscles, it runs transversely around your abdomen and creates a corset-like effect when contracted. The transversus abdominus connectis with its neighboring core muscle group, the pelvic floor, which controls the urine flow and fecal leakage, as well as the multifidus, which surrounds your spinal vertebrae.

The transversus abdominus, the pelvic floor and the multifidus are not power muscles. Instead, these postural muscles were designed to work all of the time at a low level of intensity. In contrast to your rectus abdominus, the large muscle that flexes your spine, your deep core muscles keep your spine in an upright position. Whilst these deep core muscles stabilize your body’s structures, they do not produce gross movement of the truck or extremities.

Consider the irony. If you work all day in a hunched over position, you train your rectus abdominus to do the job of your core. Paul Hodges and his team at the University of Queensland discovered that bad things happen when your core goes on strike.

The Paul Hodges Studies
In 1996, Paul Hodges, Carolyn Richardson and their research team at the University of Queensland discovered that the deeper core muscles have been turned off in people with frequent lower back problems. Their superficial muscles have co opted the stabilization process, but they are not adequately equipped for the job. In contrast, people free of back problems demonstrated active core muscles during all of the lifting activities. The subjects were tested whilst performing traditional weight-training exercises, such as the biceps curl.

If you have ever watched a weight lifter jerk a barbell and arch his back, this information should not come as a surprise. In fact, the weight belts that you see some lifters wearing at the gym actually serve as man-made substitutes for your transversus abdominus muscles and other deep core muscles. As they say, however, there’s nothing like the real thing.

How Your Physiotherapist Can Help
Learning to engage your core muscles to the point where their activation becomes immediate, instinctual and intuitive requires a total reeducation of all of your body’s systems. Call Happy Physio at (08) 9272 7359 and our physiotherapists will teach you the proper postural alignment and breathing mechanics necessary for deep core muscle activity. Learning to engage your core might prevent injuries, improve your posture and enhance coordination. It’s definitely worth it!