What is the Core:
What is the big deal about “the core”? The pelvic floor? Stabilizers? Ughhhhh….Do you hear fitness instructors say “engage your core” or “lift at the pelvic floor,” and have no clue what they mean? Are you a fitness instructor and have said these things not fully knowing what it means? (Hi! We were both guilty of this at some point in our careers) This month at The Body Benefits we’re focusing on the core! We hope to help you understand what it is, why it is so important, and how to properly “engage” it.
Where is the core
The core of your body is basically everything from your glutes up to your shoulders. (So, not your arms or legs.) The rectus abdominis, aka “the six pack,” gets ALLLLL the glory, while some major players get left out! To name a few: The obliques! The erector spinae muscles (the muscles that outline your spine and help us stay upright)! The transverse abdominis! We could go on! (The PSOAS!!!!) But each one of these muscles or muscle groups are beautifully woven together in the human body. Why? To protect the spine by stabilizing the spine, allowing/helping the spine to safely rotate, and to help us move through life.
I think we can all agree that protecting the spine (you know, that thing that houses your central nervous system) is a pretty important job. Did you know that some of the lesser known muscle groups in the core are the stabilizers?! Yep! The pelvic floor (yes, even for males), the diaphragm, the transverse abdominis, and this magical thing (ok, it’s not really magic) called the multifidus that runs alongside your spine, internal and external obliques, and, they once again make their appearance….the glutes! (Not just for your posture, y’all). Would you even believe us when we say your tiny pec minor in your chest is a stabilizer muscle?! Think of it as that group project that you worked on in school. Maybe you did all of the work but someone else got most of the credit because they only had to do the presentation. Still very important, but not the same workload. The six pack is doing the presentation while the stabilizers are pulling all nighters trying to research something to make the project better.
Our deep core muscles (the A+ students not getting the credit) are sometimes weaker than we realize because we’re not as focused on them as we are the six pack (important, yet getting all of the credit)
The transverse abdominis (TVA*) wraps around the whole core underneath the layer of muscle that the six pack is on. It’s kind of like a pair of Spanx-it’s closer to the spine so it can help support it. The TVA also connects to the diaphragm and the psoas (a deep core AND hip flexor muscle). And what is supporting all of this? The pelvic floor and the glutes. (Your glute medius specifically, which is the glute muscle on the side of your hip.) The human body-it’s all connected!
We LOVE the soda can/cylinder analogy that Jason and Lauren Pak use here. We don’t want to be a crushed can! So let’s engage those stabilizers!
Image via upstate.edu SUNY Medical University
Bracing/Engaging the Core vs "Sucking in"
First off, "engaging the core" is NOT sucking in. Last month, Lauren described it as bracing yourself for a suckerpunch to the gut from a toddler. Try it! First, suck in and then try bracing yourself for that toddler punch. Another way to describe it is think of a zipper zipping up the body and pulling your navel in towards the spine and up and knitting your ribs together. Notice anything different between the two? Sucking in doesn’t protect your spine. When you engage your core-aka zipping up or getting ready for that punch-your body will want to protect your spine so it can move in a safe and effective way therefore-the stabilizing muscles we just talked about will be forced to work and come out to play more!
If you're hanging at home (or do this in public-we don't care!) try a few diaphragmatic breaths. Those definitely will make you engage your core when done properly.
A quick "how to" for diaphragmatic breath: first, breathe in deeply through the nose, fill the whole chest and belly with air. Now, sharply exhale out of your mouth like you're exhaling through a straw. You will fill your belly that was filled with air start to press down to get all of the air out of your body quickly. Notice how the muscles contract...you've just activated your core.
Some exercises to do to work the full core are glute bridges, "dead bugs" and/or "bird dogs". These are all GREAT exercises to start will to help activate and engage the core. (Also notice they're the same as the ones for posture?)
Whew! We know that was a lot to throw at you all at once! Because the core is such a detailed and nuanced subject we’re trying something out by breaking our newsletter out into 4 different topics over the month of October. Stay tuned for how the core is used in fitness and yoga and everyday life (hello traveling!), some exercises to do to strengthen the whole core and the six pack (because you do need to work both), and last but definitely NOT least what the heck diastasis recti is as well as what it has to do with the pelvic floor and the core and what the heck the pelvic floor even does. (hint: a lot)
*every time I type TVA all I can think about is the Loki season 2 premiere and I’m so excited-Lauren