More About The Core
One of the first questions a Pilates instructor normally asks is: “Can you tell me where your core is?” Most people will then make a circular motion around their midsection to indicate the abdominal muscles. And they’re right. Partly. The core (or powerhouse) can be described in general terms as the area from the bottom of the rib cage to a line across the hip joints in the front and to the base of the buttocks in the back. Everything that lies between these landmarks makes up the core. This includes the 4 sets of abdominal muscles (Transversus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques and rectus abdominis), back muscles (mainly the multifidus and transversus abdominis) and the pelvic floor from the bottom.
You’ll notice that the transversus abdominis features in both the muscles of the front and the back. This is because it wraps around the body like a tube and when it contracts, it tightens toward the spine from both directions to support the spine and internal organs. Not only muscles make up the core. Another important component that should be taken into consideration is the fascia. Fascia is a structure of connective tissue, similar to a tendon or ligament that surrounds every muscle almost like a bag. These fasciae run in continuous lines throughout the body that creates connections in the muscles and nerves that they surround. These connections transmit tension and forces up and down these lines. The specific line that passes through the core is called the Deep Frontal Line. It runs from the underside of the foot, up behind the bones of the lower leg and knee and around to the inside of the thigh. The main track passes along the inside of the thigh, up to in front of the hip joint, pelvis and lumbar spine.
An alternate track runs up the back of the thigh to the pelvic floor and rejoins the main track at the lower back. From here, both tracks continue through the chest via several paths and end at the base of the skull close to the bottom of the ears. Along with the fasciae it incorporates all the small, stabilising muscles that the relevant fasciae run around. So what does it do?The main function of the core is stabilisation. Core strength and stability is the foundation upon which other aspects of integrated training are based. It works as an integrated, functional unit to dynamically stabilise the body during movements.
It is important to train the core because the body’s stabilisation system has to function effectively to support and use the strength and power in moving muscles. These muscles do not need to be very strong, but they must be correctly coordinated and capable of working continuously to stabilise. This stabilisation is especially important when it comes to the lower back. The core needs to be able to stabilise the lumbar spine and pelvis in a neutral position (or a natural curve) while the body is stationary (e.g. sitting or lying) or moving. The muscles must also be coordinated with the rest of the body so that the core can contract first before moving any of the limbs. This stabilises the spine and lower back area before any movement takes place, lessening the risk of injury.
The core should be trained to anticipate movement and contract before said movement takes place. The core also works to support the trunk of the body and holds the internal organs in place by regulating the internal pressure in the abdomen. Some functions can be related more to the fascial connections or line of the core. For instance, the core lifts the inner arch of the foot. Moving a little higher up, it works in conjunction with the muscles and fasciae on the outsides of the legs to balance the tension between the inside and outside of the legs. The core pulls the inner thighs together and the outsides of the legs pulls the thighs away from each other. A good balance between these forces prevent the knees and legs from pulling either towards each other or away from each other similar to, but not exactly like, knock-knees and bow-legs. In the trunk, the core stabilises the chest while allowing it to expand and relax during breathing. Because the fasciae of the core pass through the hip and chest, it is the only fasciae which relate the wave of breathing and the rhythm of walking to each other.
The neck fasciae help to balance the neck and the heavy head on top of it all. This is also the point where the core fasciae and muscles maintain the balance between the fasciae and muscles of the front of the body and the back of the body. Inadequate support from the core results in an overall shortening of the body, collapse and weakness in the pelvis and spine and lead to compensatory patterns in the body to make up for it. Unfortunately, it is not easy to pick up that there is a loss of function in the core as it is easy for the body to transfer these functions to other, bigger muscles of the body.
The functions will be performed, but with less elegance and grace and slightly more strain to the joints and tissues. This lays the groundwork for injury and degeneration – even several years prior to the obvious incident which causes the injury or degeneration. I hope that this post has inspired you to look after and tone up your own core. If you have a comment or question, please post it in the comments section. Happy core conditioning!!