The Illustrious Core

So, we have all heard of the term “core,” be it in a yoga class when the teacher says engage your uddiyana banda, draw the naval to spine, or when doing crunches in a Hiit class. However, I want to ask you – when you hear this term, what kind of feelings does it awake?

The term core evokes an array of mixed feelings, it can carry emotion and insecurities, entangled in our self-image, maybe even dare I say our worth.

For some of us it is an elusive term. We know we have a core…. somewhere, but it seems to be hidden, especially maybe since childbirth. For some the core epitomises washboard abs, that dominate insta feeds at the moment. Rest assured I’ve gone through all the motions with my core, from a kick boxing six pack to a post c-section double mound of a belly. But it wasn’t till my yoga teacher training that I truly understood the importance of having a strong core, beyond the visual surface and it's definitely not for more selfie likes.

Many yoga teachers / gym instructors say a strong core is essential for those advanced asanas, workouts – and my reply is sure but for me the key to developing a strong / stronger core postnatally (after three kids) was reducing my back pain. Other benefits of having a strong core are it can help reduce fatigue, improve posture, minimise risk of injury, risk of prolapse and it allows a person greater mobility. Yes! it allows you to keep moving as we get older.

So, from this I learnt that my core encompassed all my muscles from the pelvic floor up, to

include my gluteal medius, rectus abdominus, diaphragm, erector spinae, obliques, multifidus and transverse abs. However, strengthening these muscles was not where it stopped. There is also another avenue of thought that real core comes from the inside, from the coactivation and coordination of your true core collective. Here it is not about strength but core stabilisation, and this is accomplished by the activation of intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which we do via the breath. Professor Pavel Kolar writes “core stability is not achieved purely by strength of the abdominals, spinal erectors, glutes or any other muscles, rather core stabilisation is accomplished through precise co-ordination of these muscles through intra-abdominal pressure.”

In a recent workshop by physio Finola Burrel, she further explained that IAP is the pressure within the abdominal cavity and is controlled by core coactivation. When working properly it provides stability to the lower back and pelvic floor and therefore IAP regulation can reduce the risk of back pain, prolapse, incontinence, it increases the deep core function and provides better support whilst lifting. In other words, you want the activity levels and activation timing between the diaphragm, multifidus, transverse and pelvic floor to be well balanced. Whenever these are overactive or underactive problems ensue. So, when our core is working well, at its optimum “it controls the IAP to make sure it’s appropriate to the task at hand (e.g running, jumping, lifting a child etc) this ensures postural support and regular breathing patterns during functional activities” (Finola Burrel). Meaning we can move and exercise in a safe manner.

So, there are a whole variety of factors when approaching the core and I’m only just touching on the surface. I think our approach to the core has to ease up slightly, how we approach core exercises and how we approach ourselves. I don’t think we need a go hard or go home approach, some Pilates exercises (roll ups, single leg stretches or spine curls) maybe learning to hold a bent legged Navasana (boat pose), or a plank with knees down or up are all options, engaging our breath to help us move are all ways we can utilize and develop our core. The core is such a fundamental component to healthy mobilisation and something we should understand beyond the illustrious six pack image.

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