Image depicts a woman bracing her core during core exercises

Core Exercises – Oakleigh Osteopaths explain why strong core muscles are so important!

Core Exercises Explained…

Our Core muscles are a group of muscles that are mentioned often, but often not explained well. So here are some myths and truths about the Core Muscles and some simple Core Exercises to find your core muscles and work to strengthen them.

 

Myths about Core muscles:

 

Myth #1: Working your Core Muscles is all about getting a 6 pack

 

Many of us have been in a gym class and had the instructor yell out for everyone to “switch on your core” or “lock on your core”. With this we all naturally think of bracing our abs. When cued to “brace your core” most people will activate their Rectus Abdominus muscle- the outer abdominal or “6 pack” muscle, by bearing down or holding their breath. While the Rectus Abdominus is a very important muscle for movement of our torso it is not technically one of the core muscles.

 

Myth #2: You should lock on your core muscles the entire time when exercising

 

When exercising, this act of continuously locking on abdominal muscles is actually unhelpful. Like any other muscle, our deep abdominal and pelvic floor (core) muscles are designed to contract and also relax with movement, not remain contracted all of the time. An example of this is when performing a bicep curl; the bicep muscle will contract during the curl and then relax at the end of the exercise. So when doing core exercises it is vital to focus on contracting the muscle but then also relaxing it. Simply focusing on bracing the core muscle or locking them on can result in a rigid feeling as well as a tendency to hold the breath to achieve the contraction. All of which feels very unnatural.

 

The Truth about Core muscles:

Our core muscles actually refer to the deep abdominal muscles- Transverse Abdominus, deep spinal muscles (namely Multifidus) and most importantly our Pelvic Floor muscles. Our Pelvic Floor is one of the most hard-working groups of muscles in the body, taking the weight of all of our abdominal organs.

 

Studies have confirmed that natural co-activation exists between the deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles; meaning that if we engage our deep abdominal muscles we will also naturally engage our pelvic floor, and vice versa. This means the two muscle groups work together- so it is important that we think about both of these areas when working on our core exercises.

 

Why strengthen the Core Muscles:

Our core muscles, especially the pelvic floor muscles can become weak for a number of reasons. The most common incidences of weakened core muscles include, post- pregnancy, abdominal surgeries, weight gain- especially increased weight around the abdomen, and repetitive lifting of heavy weights. Weakening of the pelvic floor muscles can lead to incontinence, whilst weakening of the deep abdominal muscles can lead to compensation in the lower back muscles and can be a contributing factor in lower back pain.

 

 

Core Exercises – Activating your Core muscles:

When working our core muscles it is important to think about a gentle drawing in and up of the muscles rather than squeezing or bracing.

The best way to strengthen your core muscles is to first learn how to find them and gently activate them and then once you feel you have mastered gently activating them (without holding your breath!) you can progress by adding in movement.

Activating Transversus Abdominus

  1. Start in a comfortable position- maybe lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, lying on your side or even on all 4’s.
  2. Place the fingers of both hands on your lower tummy just below your belly button and close to your pelvic bone.
  3. Take a breath in, then as you breathe out gently draw your tummy inwards as if you are pulling your belly button towards your spine. You should feel a gentle tightening underneath your finger tips. Another way to think of it, if 100% contraction is bearing down, try for a light 30% drawing in. Aim to hold this gentle drawing in for another breath in and out. Then relax. This is your deep abdominal muscle, Transversus Abdominus.

 

Activating Pelvic Floor

  1. In the same position, take another breath in, this time as you breathe out, think of gently lifting up on your pelvic floor- as if you have a full bladder and need to hold on or are trying to resist passing wind. Again you should feel a gentle tightening underneath your finger tips. This is co-activation between your pelvic floor and deep abdominals at work.
  2. This time you can work the two muscles together. Take a breath in, as you breathe out gently draw your tummy in towards your spine and maintain this by gently lifting up on your pelvic floor. Maintain this for another breath in then relax on the breath out.
  3. You can repeat this for another 10 breaths.

Remember to keep the activation gentle- no tensing the shoulders or buttocks and no holding your breath for the entire activation.

 

We hope this has been a helpful insight into the infamous Core Muscles, keep an eye out for future posts on core muscle exercises including some great ones using the foam roller.