Are You Strong To The Core?

As a tree is only as strong as its trunk and root system, so a person is only as strong as their core.
So would you get blown over in a gale?
Whether you’re an elite athlete, weekend warrior, casual exerciser or relatively inactive, the strength of your core has a major impact on how you perform on a daily basis whether on the sporting field, in the office, performing a physical job or at home.

Whether you’re standing, bending, twisting, turning, lunging, pushing or pulling, you are using your core muscles to stabilize your body. Putting it more simply, whether you’re working on your feet all day, carrying the baby around, lugging shopping bags to and from the car or home, doing housework, working in the garden, working out or working in a physical job you are using your core muscles.

So what is my core?
Your core is not the much-sought-after washboard stomach. The washboard abs are just the muscles you can see and are just one component of a very complex system.
The core comprises the deep muscles running along the spine and the deepest layer of muscles running around your belly. Their role is very similar to that of an internal weight belt which stabilizes the spine and provides a stable foundation for your head, arms and legs to create the movements we discussed earlier.

So why do I need a strong core?
Your core is a very complex system which, for simplicity, can be considered as 2 functional units working in tandem to support your body – the Inner Unit and the Outer Unit.

The internal aspect
The Inner Unit comprises four major muscle groups – the multifidus (deep muscles running along your spine), the pelvic floor, transversus abdominus (TVA) and the diaphragm. Along with stabilization, these muscles provide many other functions within your body. They protect your central nervous system, spine and internal organs from external impact. They also assist in optimal function of the internal organs by mobilizing them as you move. If your core muscles aren’t functioning properly, this protection and mobilization can be compromised. When functioning correctly, your core also experiences pressure changes which assist the heart and muscles to move blood and fluids throughout your body. When core function is not optimal and these pressure changes are impaired, fluids do not move through the organs effectively and it is not uncommon to experience decreasing levels of energy, constipation, back, neck, arm or leg pain.

The external aspect
The Outer Unit comprises muscles that generally move the body. Usually larger than the inner unit muscles, the Outer Unit muscles cross multiple joints and are commonly seen or felt moving under the surface of the body.

Apart from alleviating pain in the lower back and extremities, a strong core can mean that we can go about our daily lives with a higher level of energy and a lower risk of injury. When exercising, whether running, lifting weights or another activity, a strong core means an increased ability (duration) to carry out your activity whilst maintaining correct form or technique.
If you have a physical job, a strong core (and knowing how to engage your core to assist when bending and picking things up) can reduce the incidence of lower back pain and injury.

Strength or Integration?
Whilst a strong core will give you strength and stability in movement, a core which is strong but not functioning as an integrated unit will ultimately leave you at risk of injury.

There are numerous tests available to help you determine if your core is functioning correctly, here are just three Core Function Tests from Paul Chek*:

TVA Activation Test
The aim of this test is to determine the level to which the client can control their TVA by decreasing the indicator level on a blood pressure cuff placed under the navel. The goal is for the client to reduce the level by a minimum of 10mmHg.

Forward Bend Test
This test provides the client with immediate feedback on whether they are correctly activating their TVA using a biofeedback mechanism in the form of a piece of string tied around the waist. The client bends down and picks up a weight noticing at the same time whether the string tightens around the waist, stays the same or loosens. If the string tightens or does not move then the TVA is probably not activating properly. If the TVA is activating correctly, the string loosens as the client bends forward, stabilizing the spine as the weight is lifted.

Lower Abdominal Activation Test
The goal of this test is to maintain a constant pressure on a blood pressure cuff placed under the spine whilst at the same time maintaining pelvic stabilization during leg movement.
To find the correct starting point for your core conditioning exercises ensure that your trainer, Pilates instructor, physiotherapist or other allied health professional conducts an assessment of your core strength and integration before you commence a program with them. Once you have your starting point, it’s important to ensure that you then learn the correct movement pattern to activate the muscles in the correct sequence and with the appropriate amount of effort so be patient with yourself if at first you can’t feel the muscles working.
The key to strengthening your core function is to learn how to correctly engage and integrate your core muscles when exercising and carrying out your daily activities. It is about teaching muscles to work together to produce movements, rather than isolating them to work independently……and to practise, practise, practise!

For the best and fastest results, we recommend practising for a few minutes a day – every day!

*For more information on these tests and suitable conditioning exercises, refer to “How To Eat, Move and Be Healthy!”, Copyright 2004, Paul Chek

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