Where is my core? I can’t find it!
The term ‘core’ is bounced around in physical therapy, athletic training, personal training, yoga, Pilates, and every fitness magazine out there. But have you ever really tried to isolate your core? Or better yet, do you know where to find your core? If you think of the general definition of core (middle, central, or integral component) then you have at least a start to finding your own core.
Let’s start with defining the core with anatomy — even experts vary on exactly which muscles are included. The most common misconception is that the core is just the abdominals, but let’s think about it this way-using the image of a house: the foundation is the pelvic floor (think kegels- muscles that control urine and bowel movements) and transverse abdominis, the front is the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles), sides are the obliques (internal and external), the back are the multifidus and erector spinae, and the roof is the diaphragm or scapular muscles. Many therapists may also include serratus anterior, lats, all gluts, piriformis, hip flexors, and/or hamstrings. Regardless of the exact list, the muscles that make up the midsection of your body are important for all activities and sports. Weakness in any of the above muscles can cause a weak link in the chain.
Most therapists start with the transverse abdominis (TA) when attempting to strengthen the core. The TA is the deepest of the abdominal muscles, laying next to your internal organs. It forms a corset internally and can help stabilize/support your low back, pelvis, sacro-iliac joint, and hips. Those that have undergone abdominal surgeries (including c-sections) have had this muscle cut and thus is even more important for isolation and strengthening. To isolate this muscle, start by laying on your back with knees bent and feet resting on the bed. Try pulling your belly button to your spine without creating movement in your back/pelvis and while being able to breath and talk normally. Once you are able to isolate this well, then try progressing by adding arm and/or leg movements. Eventually the goal would to be able to isolate this deep muscle while walking, running, lifting, etc.
So why is the core so important anyway? If you place a flag pole in sand or concrete and a big gust of wind comes by, which one would you trust to keep the flagpole up? If your core is the concrete then your arms and legs are the flagpole. Strengthening the core will help improve posture, improve balance, decrease low back pain, and increase performance.
Of course, if you need assistance contact your local physical therapist.