Everyone is talking about "core strength" and "core stability." But why is it so important? What is "the core," and how can I access it to my full potential?
The "core" refers to the lumbar spine, pelvis, and surrounding musculature. The lumbar part of the spine naturally has quite an extensive range of motion due to the bony structures. Lumbar stability is therefore largely dependent on muscular support. The base of core strength, such as the deeper muscles, diaphragm, and pelvic floor, is often overlooked when talking about the "core." The "abs," in contrast, are very popular and often used as a synonym.
Lumbar stability is largely dependent on muscular support.
For our core to work properly, we need to stabilise from all sides. Like in a food can, we need stability all around plus a lid on the top and bottom. In our body, the deep core muscles (M. transversus abdominis ext., int., obliquus) and the lumbar fascia build our corset; the diaphragm the top and the pelvic floor the bottom. The whole complex needs to be activated to create core stability. If part of it fails, intra-abdominal pressure (which we are trying to build to create stability) will be lost. Your body is pretty intelligent in finding other ways to stabilize the core, though. Typical compensation is overusing low back erector muscles, which may lead to excess compression and stiffness through the back of the spine. Other muscles like the hip flexors and upper back erectors jump on the train, compensating for the lack of proper core stability.
Tip #1: Learn a proper breathing technique
You need to be able to control and guide your breath. Belly breathing can be nice to access your diaphragm (inhaling) and pelvic floor (exhaling), while being able to breathe into your chest and sides will help you learn to control your breathing directions.
Tip #2: "Drawing in" the belly might not be enough. Focus on your core stability.
Drawing in the belly is a common cue in any fitness class. While this is actually a nice cue, there's more behind it! What most instructors want to achieve with that cue is better core stability. Unfortunately, it needs more than to draw in the belly. You need to bring the diaphragm and the pelvic floor into the game too!
Tip #3: Avoid "bread loafing" and focus on deep core stability.
If your bread loaf is sticking out during your core exercises, this might be a sign of insufficient deep core activation. The deep core, the "corset," should be strong enough to keep the abs close to the spine and therefore increase the core stability. So in ANY exercise, you do for your abs, focus on avoiding your bread loaf through activation of your deep core muscles.
What are your favourite exercises to train your core? Share them with me via Instagram @aerialsea or comment below. 💙
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