Have you ever wondered what your core does?  And why is everyone (your doctor, physio, chiro, osteo) telling you to strengthen your core?

Yes, we rely on it to look sexy at the beach, but is its role purely aesthetics?

Before we dive into your core’s function, let’s introduce you to your core muscles!

Yes, plural – muscles, it’s more than one!  And here you were thinking it’s just the six-pack (aka Rectus abdominis)… You’re not alone, most people think so because the other core muscles hide deeper in your body.  Just because you can’t see them doesn’t make them any less significant.

Here are the muscles groups that make up your core:

External Abdominal Oblique – the broad and thin muscular portions occupy mainly the sides of your trunk, and together they help flex your spine, like when you do a sit up or bend down to do your shoelaces.  When used separately they help us flex sideways and assist in our spine rotation – every time you turn your body, that’s your obliques helping you.

Internal Abdominal Oblique – also a broad thin muscular structure where the muscles run diagonally, and like above, they assist with rotation and side flexion but they also help us with forced exhalation – yes, that’s how your body manages those forced Pilates and Yoga exhalations!

Transversus abdominis (TvA) – think of it as your body’s very own corset, located in the deeper part of your core, it cocoons your internal organs, and helps you take those deep breaths.  Your TvA is the originator of most movements (even sitting and standing), it determines how healthy your spine is, and the quality of your posture.  According to Joseph Pilates, ‘you’re only as young as your spine is flexible’.  Your TvA helps to keep your spine flexible!

Pelvic Floor Muscles – this may surprise some of you but yes, women and men have pelvic floor muscles!  Think of it like a hammock, providing support for all your organs located in the pelvic cavity including your reproductive organs, parts of your digestive system (the rectum and the colon), as well as your bladder.

Multifidous – While very thin, it plays an important role in stabilising your joints within the spine, and if not working correctly it can cause lower back pain.

Erector spinae – is not just one muscle, but a group of muscles and tendons that run the length of your spine on the left and the right, from the bony structure beneath your lower back and hips to the base of the skull and they work to straighten and rotate your back.

Diaphragm – it separates your heart and lungs from your abdominal cavity and has an important role in your ability to breath.

Why does your physio go on and on about strengthening your core?

Here are just a few reasons to grow your love and appreciation for your core, and why you need to strengthen it.

Everyday life – Bending to put on shoes or pick up a package, turning to look behind you, sitting in a chair, or simply standing still, bathing or dressing, even vacuuming, mopping, and dusting are acts that spring from, or pass through, the core.  These actions call on your core.  You might not notice until these simple actions become difficult or painful for your body.

Desk jobs – Jobs like sitting at your desk for hours — engage your core as well.  Phone calls, typing, computer use, and similar work can make back muscles surprisingly stiff and sore, particularly if you’re unaware to practice good posture or giving yourself sufficient breaks.

A healthy back – Low back pain may be prevented by exercises that promote well-balanced, resilient core muscles.  When back pain strikes, a program of core exercises is often prescribed to relieve it and is often accompanied by other treatments such as physical therapy and medication if necessary.

Posture and support – Weak core muscles contribute to slouching.  Good posture trims your silhouette and projects confidence.  A healthy core plays a major role in your posture as it helps support your spine.  More importantly, it lessens wear and tear on the spine and allows you to breathe deeply.  Good posture helps you gain full benefits from the effort you put into exercising, too.

Sports and other pleasurable activities – Golfing, tennis or other racquet sports, biking, running, swimming, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, rowing and many other athletic activities are powered by a strong core.  Less often mentioned are sexual activities, which call for core power and flexibility, too.

Balance and stability – Your core stabilises your body, allowing you to move in any direction, even on the bumpiest terrain, or stand in one spot without losing your balance.  Core exercises can lessen your risk of falling.

Pregnancy – If you’re a woman you’ll want to pay attention to this… When you’re taught to use your core muscles during labor and delivery, and more specifically knowing how to access your deep core muscles, control them and release them, it assists natural birth and helps prevent any unwanted tearing.

Continence – Thanks to your abdominal muscles, you are able to withhold your poop and pee.  These muscles literally prevent you from crapping your pants – this ought to be celebrated!

How did we lose our core strength?

For most of us, it’s a typical case of use it or lose it!

The muscles in our body get stronger with greater use, and we lose muscle fibre with lessened use.

A lot of us have a fairly sedentary lifestyle whereby we spend hours and hours sitting every day.  If we aren’t consciously aware and upholding good posture, our core muscles get used and challenged less, leading to weakness.

Injuries, pregnancy and child-birth can also weaken your core muscles.

Targeted exercises, like those we do in Pilates and Reformer Pilates, help to address this in 3 ways- 

  1. To help you complete the exercises, your core muscles MUST work!  Think planking or simply holding your legs at the table-top position.
  2. Build awareness of core activation.  This is why we encourage you to adopt Pilates breathing in class, because they help to activate your deep core muscles.  Once you become aware of them in class, you learn the skill of activating your core muscles which will eventually become an automatic response.
  3. Develop great posture.  We encourage everyone to stand or sit tall, shoulders back and down, neutral spine, feet and knees hip width apart in class…They help to develop great posture, which you will start to model outside the studio.

We hope this has helped you better understand your core and gain a new love and appreciation for their valuable role for your health and wellbeing.  If you have any questions or concerns about your core don’t hesitate to ask our highly qualified team of instructors, we are here to help you.

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