5 Facts you need to know about your core

I have been practising Pilates for 6 years, but it is only since I started my teacher training I have really understood what we mean by the core. Powerhouse, centre, stabilising muscles, stomach muscles and core are all terms used in many exercise programmes. What is common to all these terms is they are referring to the importance of your mid-section and the role it has in supporting you in almost every movement you do. Here are 5 facts that will help you understand more about your core.

You cannot see it

The image many people have of the core is ‘the six pack’, often shown in exercise magazines and underwear adverts.  However the distinctive bumps of muscle you often see are just one part of the core.  The muscles you can see are the Rectus Abdominis.  It is perfectly possible to have a well-defined Rectus Abdominis, but also a weak core.  In fact if you over-train in one area this will often lead to a weakness in the muscle that works in conjunction with the ‘well defined one’.  In this case that would be a back muscle (the Erector Spinae) which has an important role in straightening and rotating the back.

The core is a cylinder of muscles

The picture below shows the key muscles that make up the core and you can clearly see it is a cylinder shape.  There are four key muscles involved in the core; these are the Transverse Abdominis; Multifidus; Diaphragm and the Pelvic Floor.

The core’s key function is stability

The shape of the core means that when the muscles involved contract pressure builds within the cylinder and it is this that provides stability.  You need a stable trunk in order to move well for every-day tasks.  This is why simply pulling in your belly button, or even pulling up your pelvic floor alone does not result in the optimum stability that your core (once engaged) is able to provide.

Breathing (particularly diaphragmatic breathing as practiced in Pilates), correct alignment and posture, and the ability to engage the pelvic floor and the deep abdominal muscles, all contribute to your core providing maximum stability when you are using your arms, legs and head and neck.

Your core is in use all of the time 

If you think of your core as the key chain in the middle of your body, linking your top half to your bottom half, it is easy to see how your core is in use all of the time.  What this also means is that if your core is weak, then how you use your arms and legs will also be affected.  The stronger your core, the more control you will have in your other limbs and muscles.

Most sports involve your core but daily activities like putting on your socks, turning to see something behind you when driving, lifting shopping, pushing a hoover, also engage your core.

You can strengthen the core

There are many reasons why you might want to strengthen your core.  These include: improved balance and decreased risk of falls; a reduction in back pain; breathing more easily (improved lung capacity); improved posture and appearance.

Pilates and Yoga place great emphasis on using and strengthening the core for movement and flexibility.  In addition there are specific exercises that target this area of the body.

This blog has some key exercises you can do to strengthen your core.  As always seek medical advice if you have or are recovering from an existing medical condition that may mean these exercises are unsuitable for you. 

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