IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CORE BABY
Let’s first set the groundwork by describing the anatomy and function of the “core”. When we talk about “core” training we are referring to the musculature that controls your lumbo-pelvic (lumbar spine and pelvis) positioning during both dynamic (moving) and static (still) work. In short, the muscles that control your posture throughout the trunk. The major players in this include the rectus abdominis (the 6 pack muscles), the internal and external obliques, the transversus abdominis, the quadratus lumborum, the iliopsoas, and the spinal erectors. So, we can see that it is much more involved than just “abs”. All these muscles should work synergistically to promote spinal stabilization and proper lumbo-pelvic control. So in order to be told you have a strong “core” you must demonstrate an ability to control your pelvis and spine in a wide array of movements/positions as well as under various loads. This certainly does not mean that you have to see a six pack in order to have a strong core.
Now that we’ve met the team, how do we go about getting a stronger core? Simple, continue to do the exercises that load the lumbo-pelvic system in various movements and positions and work your “core” off to maintain perfect posture through those movements and in those positions! One that immediately comes to mind is the overhead squat. In order to maintain good lumbo-pelvic posture in the bottom of an overhead squat, all those muscles we just mentioned have to work together. If there is a weak link anywhere the chain will be compromised and perfect position will be much harder to attain leading to inefficient movement and increasing the likelihood of injury. Just to show that the core is needed in various positions we will look at its function during a push up (a prone position). During a correct push up, the core muscles must engage synergistically to stabilize the spine and pelvis. If there is a leak in the system, force will be dissipated through those leaks and the integrity of the movement will be compromised. The faults of a “leaky” core will only be perpetuated if an athlete insists on performing poor movements (with a lack of core stability) just for the sake of “beating the clock”. Yes, that was my subtle advice to clean up your form 😉
Unfortunately, most of us have spent a large majority of our lives in the seated position (school chairs, cars, home playing video games, office chairs, etc) which can wreak havoc on a properly functioning core. The most common issue that presents itself is an imbalance between the hip flexors (psoas) and the lower abdominals. More detail on the roles of these muscles is necessary in order to fully appreciate this problem. The hip flexors’ main role is obviously to “flex the hip”. However, because of the way they attach to the body, they have a lot of influence on the lumbo-pelvic position. You see, the psoas is attached to the lumbar vertebrae, crosses the pelvis, and inserts onto the femur. When a person sits too much their psoas will eventually start to get a little shorter and tighter. This leads to the muscle becoming more “tone”. Tone here refers to “tonus”, or the continual passive contraction of a muscle. Shorter hip flexors will tend to pull the lumbar into excessive extension (hyper lordotic). While this is happening to the hip flexors, the lower abdominals are actually getting longer. This leads to a lack of “tone” and they become weaker. One of the main functions of the lower abdominals is to control the pelvic tilt by helping to maintain a neutral pelvis. This combination of increased lumbar lordosis and weak lower abdominals will cause the pelvis to tilt anteriorly (Donald Duck butt). This is a sure indication of future back pain. BTW at least 80% of Americans can expect to experience back pain that will keep them from work at some point in their lives.
So what do we do about this problem you ask? Simple: stretch your hip flexors (hip mobility) and strengthen your lower abs (string knees). Of course there are many other things we can do but you’ll have to ask in person.
Maybe next time we’ll dispel the myth that you should do “abs” everyday, and that it is sit-ups and crunches that reduce that stubborn belly fat.
Please feel free to email me questions or topics you’d like to see discussed.