Is this you?
You may have heard us discuss our ‘core’ a number of times in many of our articles and fitness apps. Perhaps with your physiotherapist, in Pilates, your Yoga class, or at your local running club. It is a hot topic, with good reason. But what is it? We all know that it is good for our balance and stability but what actually is it?
Classically in the past when people used to refer to your ‘core’ they were referring to your rectus abdominals, (the 6 pack abs we all aspire for) and it is unfortunately often still mistaken for this. Nowadays, when you hear ‘Core’ we are referring to it as a collective term. A term given to a group of muscles working together in harmony to create a strong and supportive framework to move from.
What muscles make up our ‘Core’?
We like to think of them as internal and external groups of muscles;
The muscles which should be engaged and working constantly at a low intensity, often aerobically, to help provide postural support and support our larger movements. These are often the muscles Pilates instructors aspire for you to be able to recruit during their sessions for example.
- Transvers Abdominals (TVA) – The deepest of all the abdominals, this muscle wraps around the body from back to front, like a corset. It helps provide tone and support for the bodies organs. We often recruit this muscle when we exhale during sport or playing a wind instrument. Top tip; to locate and activate this muscle it is much easier as you exhale.
- Pelvic Floor – A group of small muscles, often referred to as the pelvic diaphragm. These muscles; support abdominopelvic viscera (organs in your stomach), create resistance to an increase in intra-pelvic/abdominal pressure (cough, sneeze or even a fart) and manage urinary and faecal continence. Top tip to activate it; as you are breathing out, imagine you are subtly stopping yourself from passing wind, then like a zip fasten up coming from back to front, all the way up to your navel. Its also worth mentioning that chaps, you have a pelvic floor too! It’s not all pregnancy related.
- Multifidus– A deep muscle up the lower back which helps to support and offload the vertebrae.
- Psoas Major– Mainly known for its roll in hip flexion, this muscle originates from the anterior lumber spine T12-T4 providing support to the vertebrae.
- Diaphragm– A very fascinating muscle which can be elaborated on ten folds due to its connection with the parasympathetic nervous system. The lid to our ‘core’ if you like, it lies on top of our visceral organs and below our lungs, as it pulls down it draws air into our lungs. It works with the rest of our core muscles creating structure. A top tip; as you exhale it becomes easier for us to engage our other core muscles such as our TVA, so we usually exhale during the most difficult phase of each action e.g. weight lifting or Pilates.
A little extra core stabilising complex worth noting, separate from our ‘core’, just to confuse you;
- Rotator cuff– This is a collection of deep muscles that helps to support, protect and stabilise the shoulder joint. It does not make up our core pelvic girdle, however it is a good group of muscles to be aware of and ensure are being recruited during upper body mobility.
These muscles offer good support to the pelvic girdle with an aerobic manner, however are able when needed to produce large and strong anatomical movements working anaerobically as well.
- Rectus abdominals– The most superficial of all our abdominal muscles. (The 6 pack abs we all dream of). Provides trunk flexion.
- Obliques– Internal and external obliques, provides trunk flexion and rotation.
- Erector spinae– A group of muscles which run up either side of the vertebrae, providing extension of the trunk.
- Gluteals and piriformis– Group of muscles, providing multidirectional movements of the hip joint, gluteals predominantly perform hip extension.
- Iliopsoas (iliacus, Psoas Minor and Psoas major) – Enabling hip flexion movement.
Why is it so important?
Using the common analogy, if a tree was to have a weak trunk, the branches would hang down, and let’s be honest it wouldn’t be a very beautiful or functional tree. We as humans aren’t to dissimilar. There is a number of reasons why we should work on our core, from improving our balance, posture, functional movement, reducing risk of injury, becoming more efficient in our chosen sports, the list goes on. If you are more interested you may like one of our previous articles ‘Pilates Vs Yoga‘.
Or, you may like to try one of our core workouts below. This is one of many core workouts which is built into our SkiFit, BikeFit, RunFit and TriFit apps for example. Core strength and recruitment is important for efficient movement in a variety of sports.