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Hands On Healing understands the importance and function of your core muscle groups. We’re located in Montgomery, Alabama.
Turn to any fitness magazine or website, and you are sure to find a number of articles or columns discussing the value of a strong “core.”
Any number of these articles will cover the newest “rock-hard abs” exercise or how to “get a flat stomach” in a week.
Following this advice, the average person will do 100 crunches a day, activating only a single muscle, or even worse begin bicycling like movements with their legs while lying on their back, which is NOT a core exercise in any way.
So what is someone to do, since having a working core is a desirable thing, correct?
Indeed, the ability to activate and use the body’s core is not only an excellent goal, but certainly an achievable goal. However, we need to cover an important misnomer about what the “core” really is.
The general populace may make the mistake of assuming that the core refers the rectus abdominis, or a person’s abs. This is only one muscle group of several that define the body’s core, as we also have our external and internal obliques and the transverse abdominis.
Each of these muscle groups is layered from superficial to deep, and each serves to provide both its own movement as well as its own counter – movement as we walk, jump, reach, breathe, etc.
Although the fitness culture today has made enormous strides in the methodology and concepts they use to improve health and movement, the core remains one of the most misunderstood systems in the body. Much of this can be traced back to the idea of “strengthening” the core.
There are almost no movements during the day in which you will need to squeeze your core muscle groups (which is basically the only action they really do) with tremendous strength in order to move an object or complete an action.
Outside of providing some lift to get off the floor, your core muscle groups are meant to transfer the kinetic energy (movement) of the lower body into the upper body, and vice versa. This one concept changes everything about how the core should be trained.
The runner in Figure 1 (click to enlarge) is a fine example of the importance the core muscle groups serve during movement.
As we apply any level of force to objects around us, or apply force against our own body, the reactive force has to travel in the opposite direction of our applied force (simple physics).
Once this applied force travels into the core, our muscle groups will tighten to transfer this kinetic energy through the musculoskeletal system to avoid unwanted force being applied to joints, ligaments, vertebral discs, or other soft tissues, thus leading to injury.
This description of “tightening” the core to transfer kinetic energy is not synonymous with “strengthening,” and this is an important concept that isn’t getting a lot of attention during the average workout.
To strengthen the core muscle groups, we are isolating and engaging the muscle so as to cause an actual movement, like doing a crunch or sit-up. Learning to “activate” the core and improve its timing during other movements is entirely different as a method of core training.
Using things like planks, we can re-teach ourselves how to properly activate the core (assuming that planks are done correctly), and being mindful during other movement patterns, we can teach our bodies to re-engage “on demand” the need for the core to tighten in response to an applied force.
In essence, the core serves us best not in causing movement of the body, but instead limiting the movement of the body during an action so that we transfer force more efficiently and help prevent injuries.