Let’s Talk Core Strength & Spine Health!

Pam Peterson is a certified trainer and Pilates intructor.

I’ve been working with people’s bodies since 1998, and to this day some people assume that working your core means doing sit-ups, crunches and the like. But at ZŪM we know better!

Sit-ups mostly target the abs (six pack muscles) and obliques. And while these are core muscles, they are only a small part of the entire core unit. Bear with me while I explain! The sit-up muscles are merely the superficial (close to the surface) stabilizers and mobilizers of the spine that assist with side bending, forward flexing, and rotating your trunk. But there is more to the core than that.

So what is the core exactly? When it comes to overall posture and good form during movement of any kind, a strong core is essential for keeping your spine and pelvis in its ideal alignment. Why does alignment of the spine and pelvis matter? Well, when your bones are in the right alignment, your muscles work the way they are meant to – and that limits compensation, corrects muscle imbalances, and reduces the risk of injury such as disc herniation or shoulder rotator cuff issues.

Defining the Core

Imagine a cylinder – think a foam roller. Inside the cylinder is the spine (an “S” curve sort of like a spring) with gel-like discs that create shock absorption (fun fact: as we age we lose the fluid in these gel pads and that why we may lose a few inches). The top of your “inner cylinder” is your diaphragm (breathing muscle), and its fascial and muscle fibers connect into your abdominal musculature so breathing is a powerful tool for contracting and turning on your core. The front of your core, and the deepest muscle supporting your springy spine, is the transversus abdominis (TVA), which acts like an internal vest or belt. This is the front line of support for your spine. The back of your core is a deep spinal extensor/back bender called multifidus which also helps hold your spine in an “S” curve. The bottom of your cylinder is your pelvic floor (PF) which helps stabilize your pelvis in place. As mentioned above there is more to the core than the sit up muscles. All of these work in conjunction to keep your spine and pelvis aligned. Why should you care? Because an aligned body is a strong, pain free, and healthy body!

To engage these muscles while exercising, try these these steps before you begin:

-First: turn on your pelvic floor by thinking kegel or stopping the flow of urine (please don’t actually try this while peeing!) But this is only a 25% effort – imagine walking around with 100% pelvic floor contraction – that just wouldn’t work!

-Second: the PF stimulates the TVA, so allow the activation of your PF to radiate up your torso like saran wrap, tightening your internal “vest” or “girdle.” Remember: 25% effort.

-Third: The multifidus helps ensure you maintain a lower back curve, so stick your tail out and avoid tucking your tail under you to stimulate multifidus.

-Lastly: pull your belly button in a bit to help tighten that internal vest (this will activate your rectus abdominis and obliques) on top of your cylinder.

All of these together make an “engaged core.” And all of these together stabilize and strengthen the connection between your pelvis and spine. This is unfortunately an often overlooked aspect of strength-training or exercise.

If you make a habit of pre-engaging these muscles either at work sitting at your desk or while weight lifting, for example, then you are one step closer to an efficient core that works to not only support your spine but to keep you in an upright and healthy posture.

If you want to learn more about this topic, join me on April 19th at noon for April’s ZŪM U presentation: Why Posture & Alignment Matter. During this 45 min talk you will learn:

  • How to self assess basic posture issues & posture types
  • How to activate deep core muscles that are integral to balanced posture & alignment
  • Exercises and self-care techniques to correct symptoms of poor alignment such as pain or injury

Sign-up for this presentation at the front desk. Catering by Sweetgrass!