underwear-model

When lots of people think about a strong core, they picture someone with “six pack abs” like this fine underclothing model guy here. However our functional core is actually much more complex than this over simplified concept, and whether your abdominals are very defined and underclothing model-worthy or not states absolutely nothing about how strong your core genuinely is. And even if you’ve actually already found out about the fuller photo of our deeper core, it’s very likely that you’ve been exercising and/or teaching yoga with an over-reliance on the six-pack muscle without even understanding it.

YOUR ABDOMINALS

The six-pack muscle (a.k.a. the rectus abdominus) is really just the most superficial (closest to the skin) of our 4 stomach muscles. It runs vertically along the front of the abdomen and when it contracts, it draws the rib cage and hips towards each other, typically leading to a rounded spine (back flexion) and/or a tucked hips (posterior tilt).

The Rectus Abdominus.

Our other three abdominals are deep to the rectus abdominus.  The internal and external obliques run diagonally across the abdomen and are frequently taken muscles that rotate the upper body. The transverse abdominus is our inmost abdominal of all, and when it contracts, it’s a corset-like result of compressing the whole abdomen inward.

MY ABDOMINALS ARE MY CORE, RIGHT?

No, your stomach muscles are in fact not your core – at least, not in and of themselves. Your practical “core” is actually comprised of all of the muscles which support your spinal column as you move – likewise frequently described as your “core stabilizers.” Depending on whom you speak with, this can imply approximately 40 different muscles … whoa, guy !!

Yes, your 4 abdominal muscles belong to this group, however your core stabilizers likewise include the multi-layered muscles of your spinal column, your pelvic floor musculature, your back muscles, your psoas (an essential muscle you’ve actually most likely heard a lot about which is worthy of an entire article of its own!), the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades, and your breathing diaphragm.

When all of these muscles are working well, they’ll effectively keep your spinal column stable and safeguarded as you turn, squat, climb, bend over, lift heavy things, and generally move your method through life.

Once we understand the interconnected function that this big group of muscles plays in stabilizing our spinal column, it becomes clear that it’s physiologically insufficient to treat the core as simply the abdominals, or even worse yet, as simply the superficial rectus abdominus. In fact, since it prevails for our sense of “the core” to be so narrowly-defined, there’s often too much focus placed on working the six-pack muscle when we do our “core strengthening” exercises, leading to lots of (lots of!) individuals who’ve visibly-defined abdominals, but weak cores.

WHAT IS THE BENEFIT TO HAVING SIX-PACK ABS?

While six-pack or otherwise flat abs are an aesthetic that our culture finds attractive, they in fact provide no physiological benefit to our body. In truth, not unlike other body looks that our culture idealizes (think high heels and that all-too-common overly-arched spine), producing too much tension in your stomach location can really cause musculoskeletal imbalances which can contribute to illness with time. Learning to wean ourselves off of the over-use of the six-pack muscle is therefore a necessary step toward restoring balance in our body.

DO YOU TUCK YOUR HIPS TO “SAFEGUARD YOUR SPINAL COLUMN”?

We utilized to think that one of the very best ways to “safeguard the spinal column” was to “engage the core” by tucking (posteriorly tilting) our pelvis by means of contracting our rectus abdominus. Although brand-new biomechanics info has actually taught us otherwise, it’s still rather common in many yoga courses and in some schools of pilates to teach students to tuck their hips throughout their practice. And surprisingly enough, instructors frequently advise a pelvic tuck without even realizing it! Due to the fact that a lot of yoga instructor training programs don’t include much anatomy education, their students typically ending up memorizing hints to teach throughout postures without comprehending the anatomical action the hint is explaining. Did you understand that the directions “lift your stomach”, “tailbone toward your heels” and “tailbone down” are all pelvis-tucking cues?

We now understand, nevertheless, that not only does tucking our hips not innately safeguard our spinal column, it also doesn’t necessarily engage our core.

Our natural spinal curves are like built-in shock absorbers or springs in our body.

Because our pelvis works as the base of our spinal column, its orientation in space straight impacts the shape the spine. If the hips tucks, it causes our low back, which would otherwise have a natural inward (lordotic) curve, to flatten (hypolordosis). We now understand, though, that our natural spine curves are in fact vital to our spine’s ideal performance. They serve to “force-dampen” the effect that gravity carries our spine, and can be taken our built-in shock-absorbers. As much as possible, we wish to preserve these natural curves and for that reason the integrity of our structure by stabilizing our spine.

But tucking our pelvis in fact does the opposite of supporting the spinal column – it mobilizes the spine by flattening the lumbar curve (back flexion). And since the action of tucking our pelvis originates from the contraction of just our most superficial, “six pack” abdominal muscle, our real core hadn’t been asked to work at all when we tucked.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

The broad view of core stabilization is not quite as black-and-white as this, and there are of course some circumstances where we do want to work a posterior pelvic tilt. But the idea that we need to “raise our belly,” “move our tailbone towards our heels,” or otherwise tuck our pelvis indiscriminately throughout our yoga practice in order to develop core stability is dated and biomechanically incorrect.

In upcoming blog posts, I’ll offer even more understanding into our core as well as ways to make certain we are switching on our deeper core for true stabilization. The more we understand our body and refine how we move, the even more total mindfulness we will grow both on and off the yoga mat. As constantly, if you’ve any questions or comments, do not hesitate to let me understand!