These are all expressions of the same thing, and we all want it!
But for reals, what is “Core Strength?”
Most experts will describe your Core Muscles as the area that encompasses your rib cage all the way down to the upper thigh.
And experts will tell us we need a strong Core because it helps us avoid back pain, and will make us stronger overall.
Most people, when they think of Strengthening the Core Muscles, they think crunches. You know, those things you do from a lying position where you grasp the back of your head and lift it a few inches off the ground as many times as possible?
Many people may think of the Plank for Core Strength. Plank is the position where you are facing the ground with only the forearms and toes touching the floor, and you hold that position as long as possible.
There are a zillion exercises I’m sure you’ve seen. But for reals, what is Core Strength? And will doing any of these exercises actually help?
The first thing we need to know is, our Core Muscles primarily are intended to Resist Movement- Spinal movement, specifically.
Secondly, with the idea that the primary goal of your Core is to resist spine movement, they is also intended to help you rotate. But the two concepts cannot be separated. When we try to rotate without good Core Strength, we risk hearting the back (or tearing the shoulders), especially with power moves like hitting a baseball with a baseball bat, or golfing.
Learning to Activate your Core Muscles should be your first priority, and two things you should NOT DO before learning to activate your Core Muscles are crunches and plank.
Core muscles are not intended to shorten the distance between your pelvic bone and your rib cage, which is what you are doing with a crunch. (Well, kind of – uninformed people are just shortening the distance between their chin and chest.)
Planks are supposed to accomplish this goal, as the theory goes, because your Core Muscles are supposed resist the downward pull of you bellybutton toward the ground, or otherwise said, the urge to arch your spine away from the ceiling. But for those with weaker upper bodies, this is more of a shoulder exercise. Some of us just feel like our legs are the only think working.
The disturbing thing about these moves is, hundreds of people do them every day hoping to impact their Core Strength, and they are doing just the opposite, AND getting a pain in the neck, or sore deltoids, and are intimidated to ask the group exercise instructor why they don’t feel their abs working because they feel like they should know, but they come back for more.
Activating your Core Muscles take some mental energy, but it can be done anywhere, so you can practice all your waking hours if you want.
Cough. That’s right. Cough. Feel your abs tighten inward. I never use the words “suck in” your abs because when you say “suck in” the first thing you think is to breath in and raise your chest. And that’s the opposite of what we need. Not to say you can’t breathe while activating your core. You have to breathe.
I like to cue: pelvic floor up and in. Much less so rib cage area, or belly button in, although that’s part of it too. But if you start there, you could miss a large section of the area you need to be aware of.
The other tool I use is to pretend you’re protecting yourself against someone tickling you. You automatically pull the abdominal muscles inward.
Another mental cue is to pretend you are protecting yourself from being punched in the gut.
When you are seated at you desk, or in your car, or waiting on line, or nursing, or listening to the professor, or cooking dinner, practice Activating your Core as above, AND breathing without raising your shoulders or inflating your chest or tucking your butt under like a dog tucks her tail.
When you have the connection between your head and your abdominal muscles like this, THEN you are ready to start the strengthening. I still don’t recommend crunches or plank, however.
Stay tuned for the NEXT video that will cover exercises I recommend for Core Strengthening.