Redefining The Core
Redefining The Core
The terms “pull your abs” in and “switch on your core”, have become day to day cues for yoga, fitness Pilates instructors & PT’s for way too long now.
These terms have been misunderstood, misrepresented, over exaggerated and perhaps unquestioned by most who use them.
This CPD allows instructors to understand more about the role that the abdominals play in supporting the body and how we can reinvent our core vocabulary in order to move on and help people function with more skill.
Remember that everything we discuss form this point on is for healthy adults without back pain, and remember that if you do not have back pain, there is no evidence to suggest that it is imminent. I am now going to put together the opinions of many who have researched and understand that stabilising the core through puling in, activating or switching on is simply not possible.
“Pulling your belly button towards your spine or tightening your stomach muscles shuts down normal joint range of motion, muscle synchronisation, joint stability, and makes natural, graceful, balanced movement impossible. Tightening your pelvic floor during exercise is also a bad idea.” Eric Franklyn – Oregan Exercise Therapy
We simply cannot activate the abdominal muscles one – by – one!
One of the principles of common core stability is to teach individuals how to isolate their transverse muscle from the rest of the abdominal muscles or to isolate the ‘‘core muscle’’ from ‘‘global’’ muscles.It is doubtful that there exists a ‘‘core’’ group of trunk muscles that are recruited and which operate independently of all other trunk muscles during daily or sport activities (McGill et al., 2003; Kavcic et al., 2004). This cue or classification is anatomical but has no real functional meaning. To specifically activate the core muscles during functional movement the individual would have to override natural patterns of trunk muscle activation. This would be impractical, next to impossible and potentially dangerous; as stated by Brown et al. (2006) ‘‘Individuals in an externally loaded state appear to select a natural muscular activation pattern appropriate to maintain spine stability sufficiently. Conscious adjustments in individual muscles around this natural level may actually decrease the stability margin of safety’’.
So basically, the abdominal group activate sympathetically and in a relatively complex equation to naturally support the spine and internal organs during functional activity.
Focusing on training a single muscle is even more difficult. Muscle-by-muscle activation simply does not exist (Georgopoulos, 2000). Heres is a great example – if you bring your hand to your mouth the nervous system ‘‘thinks’’ hand to mouth rather than flex the biceps, then the pectorals, etc. Single muscle control is relegated in the hierarchy of motor processes to spinal motor centres. It has been demonstrated that when tapping the tendons of rectus abdominis, external oblique and internal oblique the evoked stretch reflex responses can be observed in the muscle tapped, but also spreading extensively to muscles on the ipsilateral and contralateral sides of the abdomen (Beith and Harrison,2004). This suggests sensory feedback and reflex control of the abdominal muscles is functionally related and would therefore be difficult to separate by conscious effort. This simple principle in motor control poses two problems to core stability training:
1. It is doubtful that following injury only one group or single muscles would be affected. Indeed, the more EMG electrodes applied the more complex the picturebecomes (Cholewicki et al., 2002a,b).
It is well documented that other muscles are involved for example multifidus , psoas , diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, gluteals
2.The second problem for core stability is that it would be next to impossible to contract a single muscle or specific group. Even with extensive training this would be a major problem.
The novice patient is more likely to contract wide groups of abdominal muscles.
So why focus on the transverse when?
1. The control of the trunk (and body) is entirely whole. There is no evidence that there are core muscles that work independently from other trunk muscle during normal functional movement
2. There is no evidence that individuals can effectively learn to specifically activate one muscle group independently of all other trunk muscles.
Truths & untruths moving forward
1. Weak trunk muscles, weak abdominals and imbalances between trunk muscles groups are not a pathology just a normal variation.
2. The division of the trunk into core and global muscle system is a form of diluted jargon, which serves only to promote core stability.
3. Weak or dysfunctional abdominal muscles will not lead to back pain.
4. Pulling in or tensing the trunk muscles is unlikely to provide any protection against back pain or reduce the recurrence of back pain.
5.Core stability exercises are no more effective than, and will not prevent injury more than, any other forms of exercise or physical therapy.
6. Core stability exercises are no better than other forms of exercise in reducing chronic lower back pain. Any therapeutic influence is related to the exercise effects rather than stability issues.
7.There may be potential danger of damaging the spine with continuous tensing of the trunk muscles during daily and sports activities.
8. People who have been trained to use complex abdominal hollowing and bracing manoeuvres should be discouraged from using them.
I know how hard it is hard to let go of the things we say every day, so perhaps we can just re invent and create a new dialogue that will help people move away from trying to pull in one or a few muscles and work on the entire global framework. Imagine that instead of an approximate 650 muscles in the human body, we think of them as only one. This muscle connects throughout the human structure with every movement via connective, tissue, fascia and breath.
So let’s redefine the core
Start by firing their imagination, this is such an important part of knowing yourself and how your body works. We create a mental picture of how we are standing in the here and now, it is changeable as we become stronger and more stable. The great thing about this new core is that it is a framework within which we do our very best work. It is not there to protect us, it is there to help us move and function better. Once we allow our imagination to create a shield around us that is our core we will allow ourselves to achieve great things in movement.
Here are a couple of our common teaching terms that will now come into play:
- BALANCE – we are looking to create the perfect balance between stability ad flexibility. The term tensegrity (tension plus integrity) defines this; when muscles, mind and fascia work together to create seamless movement we have achieved balance.
- CORE – In re defining the core, we now think of the body as having a core like an apple core that runs form the base of the foot to the top of the head. This centre core has guidelines around the entire body to help it move to its best potential at the same time as stopping it from moving too far.
When we refer to the core moving forward we are promoting postural balance. The guide lines that we will now discuss will help you to imagine a structure from foundations to the very top working as one with tensegrity. The problem with out previous version of core stability is that is focused on protecting an already protected structure – the spine, and preventing it from injury that is unlikely to happen. The re defined core provides guidelines that will help balanced, stable, strong function in every day activities and advanced performance in our chosen physical activities. We perceived “good posture” to be standing upright with everything aligned. This now re defines as a balanced posture, where muscles, mind & fascia working synergistically to create great posture in motion.
Let’s redefine our core
As we stand like a mountain using the yoga (tadasana pose) with feet together, balanced in standing with arms stretched down by our sides, palms facing forward. Imagine your entire body being light upon the mat, almost floating. Energy is not pushing down into the ground it is circulating around the body encouraging every part to connect. we are going to establish guide or support lines around our bodies that will assist and support us when we move.
- Core Guide Line – This is the apple core and runs from the foot to the head. The deep muscles ( mainly slow twitch) are closest top the bones and responsible for stabilisation. this is the closest we come to our old version of the core and core stability. Once we train these muscles, they learn and respond with speed. The brain thinks, the muscles respond and the fascia connects, it is beautiful. Establish this line as you stand and when you teach say it out loud. It starts at the sole of the foot and travels through the ankle, along the back of the calf, up the inner thigh where it splits at the pelvis. The front line moves along the front of the pelvis to the spine, along the front of the spine, the front of the rib cage and into the throat. At the back of the pelvis it goes up through the seat, along the back of the spine and rib cage, into the back of the neck. We are grounded and stable.
- Front Guide Line – Starts at the top of the foot and travels through the anterior chain to the back of the head – Concerns itself with flexion & moving forward.
- Back Guide Line – Start at the sole of the foot, travels through the posterior chain going up and over the head to the forehead (as you progress, name the muscles posterior and anterior that the guides pass through) – Concerns itself with extension & moving back.
- Side Guide Lines – Starts at the outside of the foot and travels upward along the outside of the lower leg, thigh and into the hip, coming out of the hip it criss, crosses through the side abdominal muscles ( obliques/rectus), into the and through the ribs, onto the neck muscles, connecting at the head. Concerns themselves with lateral flexion.
- Rotational Guides – Well these just spiral around the body from the foot to the head, allowing us to walk like super models on a cat walk. Concerns themselves with rotation and stabilise the walking, running motion.
Now we can put it into practice
Almost every exercise in your repertoire will now be a core exercise, they will all contribute to better function, more eloquent movement patterns and a posture defined by the way that you stand move and control yourself in motion.