In the ABC’s of Effective Movement the letter ‘C’ stands for Core Activation, this section will describe what the core is and how you can learn to properly activate it when exercising or performing everyday movements.
When people refer to the ‘core’ what usually comes to mind is the abs, or abdominal muscles, because having strong abs is the same as having a strong core. Right? WRONG! The ‘core’ is actually comprised of 29 equally important muscles, which means that if you are only doing crunches in your ab routine then you are working on only one facet of the core and that you are probably neglecting the rest.
BUT I HAVE A SIX PACK! I don’t care if you have a six pack, an eight pack or a twelve pack. In terms of core activation your six pack is about as relevant as a one finger grip is when trying to grasp onto something. A 10 finger grip will beat a 1 finger grip EVERY TIME.
I like to use CUBE THEORY to describe how the core works. Its not a perfect theory, but its a simple explanation that doesn’t require a degree in human movement to understand. (If you want to read a more advanced description of core activation then google search ‘Paul Chek’ to read about the Inner and Outer Units).
A cube is supported from SIX sides – Front, Back, Left, Right, Top and Bottom. If you take away any of these sides, or if one side is stronger than the others then it loses its balance and strength.
The spine consists of 33 vertebrae presented in 4 different curves (Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Pelvic) which stack on each other vertically to create the Vertebral Column (which is just another name for the spine). These vertebrae are separated by discs and supported by the musculature of the ‘core’. The way that these ‘core’ muscles support the spine is by providing tensional integrity (a.k.a tensegrity) that, in a basic sense, pulls it from all different directions in order to stabilise it (think of guide wires holding up a ships mast).
The Six Sides of the Cube
Front – Rectus Abdominus (also Psoas and Hip Flexors)
Back – Multifidus, Erector Spinae (also Glutes and Hamstrings)
Sides – Inner and Outer Obliques, Transverse Abdominus (TVA)
Top – Diaphragm
Bottom – Pelvic floor
NB – One important thing to note now that I have described the basics is that clearly the human body is not shaped like a cube. It is cylindrical, like a can, and even more importantly is that there is no real distinction between front, back and sides because the human body works synergistically – This means that all of the muscles and fascia are interconnected and work together to support the spine.
Practical Exercise – The Plank
Almost everyone has done the plank (a.k.a The Hover, Prone Hold, Bridge) at some point or another in their life. But have you ever done it properly? Try these next few steps the next time you do a plank and see if you can feel the difference in the structural integrity of your core as you do so. Steps 1 – 5 are the basic steps to proper activation of your core in almost all movements.
- Start on your forearms and knees, with forearms parallel to each other and palms facing down.
- Find your neutral pelvic tilt by tilting forward and backward – in the middle is neutral.
- Draw in your belly button – this activates your Transverse Abdominus (TVA).
- Start breathing diaphragmatically (feel the air enter and increase pressure in your stomach as you breathe)
- Clench your pelvic floor (this is the same sensation that stems the flow of urine when you go to the toilet)
- Maintain all of these things as you come up into the plank position – Forearms and Toes should be the only parts of your body in contact with the ground.
- To increase difficulty try putting your feet in plantar flexion – Point your toes so that your weight is on the tops of your toes/feet rather than on the balls of your feet.
- Breathe – Always try and maintain a steady breathe when doing a plank.
- Try and hold for 60 seconds or longer.
The Plank can also be done on both sides (Side Plank) and as the ‘Table Pose’ in Yoga which is a kind of upside down plank.