Muscles Monthly: The Core
"The Core" Defined
Now that we are familiar with the glutes, let's journey to the "center" of our body, the core. When thinking about the core, many phrases or images may come to mind: A 6 pack of abs, Pilates and Yoga, the center of your being. Maybe one of these came to your mind, or perhaps it was something different. Whatever defined core in your mind, yes; the core is that, and much more. But let's talk muscles. What is the core? What does it do for our bodies? Why is everyone talking about it?
In order to truly explore the core, we must first understand the core. What is it? How does it affect our day to day living? The core is made up of several smaller muscle groups including the abdominals, (rectus abdominus ("the abs" or "6 pack muscle"), transverse abdominus, spinal muscles, (erector spinae, multifidus, rotators), obliques (internal and external obliques), diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and once again, the gluteus muscle group.
Deep within the abdominal and back regions, the core muscle group attaches to the spine and pelvis, providing stability, strength, and form to our body, especially the pelvis and spine. So, one might say the core is our muscular backbone. In addition to stabilization, the core also helps to transfer power to the limbs (arms and legs), assisting with movement and momentum between the upper and lower body, for example, when a batter swings the bat .
Now that we are acquainted with the core muscles and their functions, what does dysfunction in the core look like and how can it affect us?
Why work the core?
Let's take a moment here and talk about clocks. Inside of each clock are a set of gears, small and large round objects in a variety of shapes and sizes, that allow the clock to move forward or backward, keeping time. Each gear is shaped uniquely and performs an important job, together keeping the clock ticking so that time can, essentially go on. If one of these gears breaks or becomes stuck, time stops, or dysfunctions.
Just like clockwork, our core muscles come in different shapes and sizes, sliding together to perform the function of stability and power transfer in the body. If one of these muscles is shortened, lengthened, injured, or not working properly, the entire clockwork of the body is compromised, causing other muscles to have to work in different ways to keep you moving on time. This is called a compensation pattern. Common compensation patterns in the core can be limited movement in the spinal column or back, limited grip strength in the arms and hands, or limited twisting/reach of the spine and torso. These could be caused by injury, muscle strains, scar tissue, or lifestyle habits. Just like all of the gears when aligned and working properly keeps the clock ticking, the muscles of the core when aligned and working properly help keep the body ticking, so to speak.
Has reading this far left you feeling that, your core clock is hopelessly broken, but there is just too little time and too much to do? Understandable. Is the only solution to get a massage weekly and wait for things to feel better in the morning? No. Though regular massage is helpful. If you are looking for a few less time consuming ways to help your core, here are some of my favorites to help you out.
(This blog is not a substitute for medical advice. If experiencing pain or an underlying medical condition, consult your medical team before beginning or participating in a new or unapproved activity.)
What Can You Do?
Because life gets busy, here are a few ideas that you can do anywhere from the office to your living room to the gym.
The Sprinkler Twist
Sit tall in your chair or on the ground
Place your hands behind your head (as if you were going to relax)
Twist to the left as far as you can go and hold for one second. (This might be uncomfortable, but should never be painful.)
Return to the center
Repeat steps 1-4 on the left side and hold for 1 second.
Repeat steps 1-5 5-10 times (or as long as you would like)
Push ups (Modified: Drop the knees)
Get down on hands and knees, placing hands slightly wider than shoulders (crawling position).
Straiten arms and legs (if an easier exercise is desired, place knees on the floor, keeping the spine aligned, and lift feet up)
Lower body until chest is just above the floor (Keeping joints in alignment)
Hold for 1-5 seconds and use arms to push self back into starting position
Repeat for as long as desired
Sit ups (Modified: Crunch)
Lie on back with feet on the floor and knees bent
Place hands on either side of the head
Bend at the hips and waste to raise the body off the ground (if you can't go all the way to your knees, go as far as you can)
Lower your body back down
Repeat for as long as desired
The Plank (Low Plank and High Plank)
Lie facedown on the floor with elbows directly beneath shoulders and feet flexed with bottoms of the toes on the floor.
Keep shoulders parallel and hands unclasped
Press into forearms and raise toes so that only the toes touch the floor. (For a high plank, straighten the elbows, keeping arms and shoulders aligned)
Draw your belly button towards your spine and tighten the glutes
Hold for at least 10 seconds before lowering yourself to the floor
Repeat as desired
Now that you have journeyed with me through the core, hopefully you are left with a few ideas to keep your body running like clockwork. Do you have a favorite way to work your core or a question? Feel free to comment below or message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you will join me next month for another journey through the muscular body.