Misconception on what muscles are core muscles
There is a misconception that the abdominals (the ones that look like a 6 pack) are core muscles but this is not the case. The deep core muscles which can often be overlooked include the transversus abdominis, pelvic floor and multifidi.
Static exercises do not work the core in a functional way
The plank comes to mind when people discuss core exercises but it doesn’t really work the core. However introducing movement into your plank will. For instance T planks where you change from one side to the other work your core and mobility in your shoulder so is a far better exercise that a static plank. Other good exercises include dead bugs, and bear crawls. These all encourage movement and we want our core working when we are moving to help reduce the occurrence of injuries.
Another exercise that is often miss used are sit ups these work your rectus abdominis but not so much your deep core. Also you don’t need to do full sit ups to work the rectus abdominis just lift your head and shoulders of the floor.
Athletes do not necessarily have good core
Often it is thought that athletes have good core but this is not always the case. Quite often they will engage global muscles to do the work of the core, which in the long run will potentially lead to injuries as these global muscles end up doing more work than they should. Often in a Pilates classes athletes find the complex/advanced exercise easier as they recruit global muscles but the basic/beginner exercises they find quite difficult to perform as these target the deep core muscles.
Even as a top athlete it is really good to go back to basic and make sure that you are firing your core muscles. Pilates is a great way to do this. A one leg stretch (sliding leg to a straight position and then back) is a simple but effective exercise. If you find your pelvis (hip bones) are moving when performing this then you are not engaging your core effectively.
Core is not an all or nothing
Quite often we think of the core being on or off but you can control the level of activation like a elevator. Some activities we want an active but supple core such as riding a horse and others we want full recruitment to stabilise our foundation such as lifting a heavy weight. You can practice different levels of activation while at your desk.
To activate your transversus abdominis you want to gently draw in with the muscles between your hip bones. You can use your fingers tips to help. Find your hip bones at the front and fall into the soft tissue on the inside of them. Gently draw in like you are putting a pair of trousers on that are too tight. You should feel the muscle tense underneath your fingertips but not push the fingertips out. While this is happening your rectus abdominis (6 pack) should be relaxed and you should be able to still breath. Play around with the intensity of engagement.
Men also have a pelvic floor
Pelvic floor is often talked about when women are going through pregnancy as it is important in their recovery after child birth. So most women know they have a pelvic floor. It is not often talked about in men, but guys you do have one so make sure you use it. It’s part of your core muscles and will help reduce injuries. So to engage your pelvic floor you draw up. Quite often men find the term ‘nuts to guts’ a better way of understanding it or its like running into cold water.
Key things to remember about core
- Use dynamic exercises not static exercises to work core.
- Sit ups primarily work your rectus abdominis (6 pack) and not your core
- You can have different amounts of core activation
- Men have a pelvic floor as well as women