Right down to the core…

Injury prevention comes from proper preparation prior to activity.  That preparation should include balanced power and flexibility in the limbs coupled with a well controlled trunk. Stabilizing the trunk and pelvis provides a solid grounding to generate power from the limbs and safely load the spine.  Today we are going to look at the “core”: what it is, the consequences of it being weak, and what you can do to ensure it’s firing on all cylinders.  And if you’re still curious, visit Burrard Physiotherapy in downtown Vancouver, where our therapists will guide your rehab and core training.

“The Core”…What is it?

The Core is the name given to the muscles of the pelvis and low back which control vertebral alignment during motion.  They are the pelvic floor, deep abdominal wall (transversus abdominis), deep back muscles (multifidus) & diaphragm. The Pelvic Floor muscles form a muscular hammock slung underneath the pelvic opening. The transversus abdominis wraps around the trunk like a corset.  The multifidii are deep back muscles, which connect consecutive vertebrae together.  When activated correctly this group of muscles literally hugs the vertebral column which supports the spinal joints and discs to help prevent injury.

What happens when it’s weak?

Core Weakness leads to early fatigue. The legs are then relatively stronger than the waist and there is less than the required protective “hugging” of the spine. Effective, safe linkage and power transfer between the limbs and the trunk is lost. With the progressive overload it is usually the back that gives way, leading to injury of the small spinal joints and discs. Sometimes the limbs will be the sites of injury as they compensate for the spine.

How can I train it?

Training these muscles needs to be done at a moderate level of effort so that proper isolation of the inner unit can be achieved. Starting with too much effort tends to bring in the outer abdominal wall (outer unit) too quickly so don’t try too hard when learning this isolation. While there is nothing wrong with strong outer abdominal muscles, they cannot produce the desired steadying effect on the low back. The pelvic floor is the most easily found trigger for the rest of the core muscles. It is found as a tightening or a pulling up of the sphincter muscles, as in when trying to avoid passing wind. Women are often familiar with this as a “Kiegel” exercise. Kiegel exercises are taught as a general pelvic floor strengthener, especially before and after childbirth.

Here’s how to start.

1) Take a breath in. As you release the breath, gently pull up and in with the front passage muscles. Men can think of a lifting of the testes to get the frontal muscles.

2) Hold 3 seconds and repeat 3 times. Now do 3 pumping lifts of a second each. Repeat this whole sequence 3 times.

3) Now repeat the exercise but focus the contraction gently firming around the back passage as though avoiding breaking wind. With a few weeks of daily practice you will be able to gently hold for at least a minute. Use this “up and in” initiation to firm and protect the core an instant before doing any exercise or activity.

This is the first stage of exercises for your core. Talk to your physiotherapist at Burrard Physiotherapy about progression of these exercises.  Burrard Physiotherapy offers specific training for more advanced core stabilization. Your therapist will assess your physical condition first to make sure that this form of training is most appropriate. To avoid injury, it is often safest to have a few sessions with your physiotherapist before embarking on any group Pilates or core strengthening classes.  Happy planking everyone!

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