When I start working with someone I ask what their goals are. Almost always they tell me, in one way or the other, that they want to improve their core strength. As they say this, they usually put their hands on their belly with a slight look of disappointment.
Internally I’m thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.”
Your core is not your belly. Or rather your core is not just your belly.
Core is the hip word in the fitness world these days, but somewhere along the way core has become a word that can be interchanged with abdominals.
Your abdominals themselves are not going to solve all of your physical problems. They don’t have magic powers that when turned on, automatically make you a better stronger mover.
Your abdominals rather, are part of a complex unit of muscles that have become known as the core.
These include: Abdominals, Pelvic floor, Multifidi, Diaphragm, Psoas
As biomechanist Katy Bowman says your core is, “everything that your arms and legs are connected to.”
It is the coordination and dance between all of these muscles that determines your core strength.
I recently started sessions with a lovely client who had been in PT for a sacroiliac issue. She was excited to start with me because she really wanted to strengthen her core. During some basic exercises I quickly noticed that she was doing an extreme contraction of her abdominals, even for the simplest of motions. When I asked her how she felt she told me that her neck felt very tense and her back was bothering her. I directed her to simply envision the length of her spine and forget about trying to do anything with her abdominals.
She immediately felt relief.
It’s not that contracting your abdominals is bad, but your abdominals should respond to the task at hand.
It’s like when you look at children playing. When you see them swinging from the monkey bars or doing cartwheels, you don’t think, “Well, they have strong abdominals.” You simply see them beautifully moving. Their arms, their legs, their torso; each part of their body is connected and moving together.
In fact, maybe the definition of core is as simple as that: Our core is our whole self. It is the integration and connection between all the parts.
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