Core is a huge buzzword in the fitness industry these days and having a tight and toned belly is thought to improve performance, reduce injuries and help with low back pain. However there has been little research to point to a strong core equaling less back pain or even improve performance.
While I don’t want to throw the baby out with bathwater. I do think that the fitness industry standard of a flat and tight belly is unhealthy. I do think that the large majority of “core exercises” I see in yoga and fitness classes are not helpful in creating a dynamic core. I don’t agree that more “core strength” leads to less back pain. I believe “navel to spine” isn’t a good cue for your spine or organs.
I have many clients that are into fitness and yoga dealing low back pain and pelvic floor issues. When I assess the tone in the abdominals and pelvic floor it is often far too tight and glued down. When I watch and feel them contract core muscles it’s often unorganized and full force.
I like to think about having a dynamic core. One that is strong but can move in all directions at any time. I think its just as important to have “core control” as core strength and the ability to let your core soften and relax may be just as important than being able to contract. Having a “tight core” actually compresses your organs and makes you shorter.
Picture the core like a 6 sided box: The abdominals (retus abdominis and internal/external obliques, and transverse) are front and the sides of the box with psoas, QL, and erectors holding in back and then pelvic floor, hamstrings, iliacus, and the deep rotators make up the bottom and the diaphram is the top of box.
Ideally the tension in abdominals and back muscles balance each other to allow for full movement and length without compression, the psoas and QL balance each other left to right, the oblique X is balanced and the diaphram and pelvic floor face each other so breathing is optimal.
The above is almost never the case and while perfect balance is unrealistic one can certainly improve core function through movement education and good bodywork.
At SMARTCore we almost never cue anyone to engage their abdominals. My teacher Kaylee says something like:“ When you put all the bones in the right place the core responds”. Instead of cueing muscles to fire we talk about relationships between parts and how to improve those relationships.
Structural Integration bodywork helps improve alignment of bones by working with myo-fascia in specific ways for your structure to free up restrictions. After my sessions I assign somatic movement exercises and mindful walking to help integrate the work. Once those relationships improve your core will work better in all activities without you thinking about it and you won’t have to do a sit up ever again. Your organs and spine will thank you and you may even appear and feel taller than before.
If you have back pain or just want a more functional core come see me!