So let’s get the technical gumpf, (I’m pretty sure that a Norn Irsh word, right?) out of the way to start. What is you core? What muscles are involved? Why is it so important to train our core muscles?
When we think of core muscles our first thought usually goes to stomachs, 6 pack abs and flat tums. This is only part of the story. There are many muscles in your core and they have a beautiful relationship all working together, when we strengthen the entire core. Your core is basically all the muscles that aren’t arms or legs. They are the muscles responsible for stabilising our bodies and your core will provide most of the energy your body needs for moving around. These muscles provide flex, rotation and a side wards bend in the torso. They include muscles who’s function is to protect internal organs, keep the spine erect and run they all the way as low as our pelvic floor muscles and glutes.
Let’s look at the ‘stomach’ muscles first. The rectus abdominis (abs! ) is the one responsible for 6 pack look we see so many times. There are two of them running vertically and are connected down the middle by a line of connective tissues known as the linea alba. Is is the thinning and weakening of this connective tissue that can cause a separation of the two muscles.
Our inner abs include a muscle called the transversus abdominis. It sits underneath both sets of oblique muscles and it wraps around the spine to help stabilise your body. We then have the external and internal obliques. The external obliques are the outer most layer of muscle and run downwards. If you put your hand, fingers pointing towards your belly button, just under your ribs, this is more or less how the muscle fibers run. It helps you bend to the side and twist your torso. They work by contracting at one side to allow movement to the other side. The internal counterparts are underneath these and starts at the top of your pelvis. They run in the opposite direction of the externals. The difference is that when the muscle on one side contracts, it moves the body to that side.
So we have covered the main abdominal muscles, but that is only part of the equation. We need to look at some of the muscles in the back that work in symbiosis with these muscles. We are going to look at a group known as the ‘Instrinsic’ muscles which have 3 layers. The first layer is responsible for keeping your spine upright. They have short, dense muscles fibres running from the back of your pelvis and connect each individual vertebrae to the next. These are great little muscles who fire away in the background as we stand and walk around all day. Overstretching these muscles from bad posture, bad form in a workout etc can be responsible for a misalignment and consequently back pain.
The second layer of muscles are like straps, connecting to the back of the head, rib-cage and pelvis. They are called the erector spinae and are reponsible for posture, allowing us to stand erect.
The third layer is made up of the biggest muscles. The ones responsible for lifting. As you lift, they are responsible for keeping the trunk solid to protect the vertebrae.
The second and third layer work together to control the correct curvature of the spine when lifting.
Abdominal and back muscles are STILL only part of the equation but I don’t want to bore you senseless so we’ll leave it there for now. Even glancing over it quickly, it’s blatantly obvious how important effective core training is.
So when we say core exercises, what is the first thing that springs to mind? Sit ups? Stomach crunches? The jury is still out on the benefit of these but for the purpose of thinking of your core as a whole, let’s just leave those to one side for now. So let’s say, our purpose for core training is strengthening rather than one of aesthetics. Fitness, to me, should be functional as well as fun. I can’t remember where I heard the quote but I very often find myself muttering in my head “Your body will shape the way you move it” To me, the most effective core programmes are the ones that work muscle groups together, in the way these muscles were designed to move. Here’s an example, ever done a whole bunch of sit ups and feel achy in your lower back or find yourself pulling on your neck? It’s because your lower back is imbalanced with you ab muscles.
So, where do we start? Well, here’s the easiest way without making too much of a change to your regular workouts.
Press ups! You will hear me say this over and over at bootcamp, it’s not just for your chest and shoulders, it’s a core workout too! Take it back a notch and look at your plank starting position. Whether you are going from your fore arm or full arms, your arms or elbows should be in a straight line from your shoulders. Pull in through your pelvis, as if your hip bones are being lifted, your neck should be relaxed so that the back of your head follows a lovely straight line all the way down to the back of your heel, squeeze your butt muscles and then pull up through your ab muscles. THE GOAL IS NOT TIME!!! The goal is keeping that perfect form as long as you can. Once the form goes, you very quickly run out of any kind of benefit. Like I always say, you are better holding a proper plank for 10secs that for 2+minutes with a dipping lower back. The same can be applied to your press ups. Start in exactly the same position, don’t try to force the depth of each press or you will unconsciously start to dip that lower back to get your body closer to the ground. When you are focusing on your core you are better to do only a few, barely moving press ups than trying to blast through a messy set.
Squats and lunges next. Did you know you use your core when performing these? For balance, for movement, for spine protection. In a regular squat, before we even add in any weights, we need to practice keeping a neutral, straight spine. To help you remember this you can put your fingers along that line between your hips and imagine you are guiding those muscles backwards towards your spine. This will also help you not to allow those sneaky knees to track over the top of your toes! Lift your chest, keeping your head up will help you remember this, and keep the shoulders back and down. You can do the same with those lower ab muscles in a lunge but this time we use those back muscles to sit straight and tall. You should aim to have the back knee in a straight line with your shoulders.
Running drills such a bounds, lateral jumps,single leg drills along with single leg dead lifts, twisting lunge and squat jumps etc all help to build that core stability.
So, to help you along with your core training, I’ve put together just a few standard exercises that you can do at home. Go through each one, and when you can do it properly, create your own set. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luLk6x7-eaI
Have a little pooch down there or an achy lower back? This swollen looking squishy part of your lower stomach can be caused by bad posture along with stress, so before you go jumping in or if you are a beginner to core training/post-natal, then here is one for you. PLEASE make sure you have spoken to your GP before embarking on a new fitness regime. I’ll show you a few basic ones to try any time, anywhere. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkh6QWF89Ck