More often than not, I am talking to clients about engaging their core muscles. And, quite frankly, they don’t know how to. It’s understandable really; for years, you have been taught how to do sit ups, press ups and the plank (if you’re lucky!). Does this engage your core or just give you a six pack? Does a six pack mean you have a strong core or is it all just for show?
As a summary of Paul Chek’s chapter ‘Getting to the Core’ in How to Eat, Move and be Healthy, let me explain what your core is and how it might just help you!
What do you mean, core?
Your core is your entire torso, including your internal organs. There’s a lot going on in there so here is a very basic summary:
• Your core is incredibly important and is your foundation for movement. If your core isn’t functioning properly, you might experience extremity and spinal pain and be more likely to get injured.
• Your core ‘provides a protective shield for your spinal cord and internal organs’. Your spinal column protects the spinal cord and your ribs and abdominal muscles protect your internal organs. Your rectum abdominus muscle (your six pack), is actually there to help shield important organs, not just look good!
• Your core contains highly important internal organs, when your body moves and exercises properly these internal organs are mobilised. Proper movement of your core is very helpful to maintaining normal bowel habits; ‘When key core muscles stop functioning correctly, support for your internal organs is diminished and their function is challenged’.
• The largest artery and vein in your body is situated behind the abdominal organs, along the spine. When your body moves correctly, ‘pressure changes occur in the core that assists the heart and extremity muscles to circulate blood and lymphatic fluid throughout the body’. If your core stops functioning properly, your heart has to work harder and the fluids flowing through the core become relatively stagnant. This can increase your chances of fungal and parasite infections, constipation and disease and a decrease in energy levels.
How the core works – in a nutshell
The Inner Unit
Your inner unit has four major muscle units that work together – your deep muscles running along the spine (miltifidus), your pelvic floor muscles, your deepest abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis) and your large breathing muscle (diaphragm). The main job of these muscles is to stiffen the spine, rib cage and pelvic girdle so your head, arms and legs have some stability: ‘If your inner unit stops functioning correctly, you can’t effectively stabilise your core or extremities and you’re much more likely to be injured, particularly in the lower back, where there’s a lot of load on the spine’.
There are many factors that can affect or disrupt abdominal muscle function, one of which is diet and lifestyle. If you are consuming foods and/ or drinks that you are allergic or intolerant to, your abdominal function will be affected because there will be inflammation of your internal organs which will cause your abdominal muscle to weaken and/ or be non-responsive to exercise. Stress, alcohol, medical drugs, food additives, preservatives, colourings, irradiated foods and microwaved foods can all cause inflammation in your digestive organs!
The Outer Unit
The outer unit muscles are the ones that we can see on bodybuilders: ‘Outer unit muscles are like the engine in your car, and the inner unit muscles are like the suspension system and the bolts that hold the frame and the wheels on; it doesn’t really matter how strong your engine is if your frame breaks or your wheels fall off!’
Even in this very brief introduction and summary of your core, you can see just how important your core is in supporting your body for optimal function and health!
Following Paul Chek’s guide, it is easy to do some simple tests to check your core functioning. Once you know which areas to work on, he gives exercises to help you regain proper core function. If you are serious about wanting to support your core, I would encourage you to purchase his book here.
• Consider joining Pilates or Yoga classes to help with both core strength, proper function and stress levels!
• Talk to your gym instructor about exercises that will engage your Inner Unit
• Have you ever considered that poor eating habits, alcohol and stress can affect your core function and cause you pain? Look into changing this to help eradicate pain!