Firstly, let’s define ‘core’. The media content that we are constantly spoon-fed leads us to believe that it’s all about the ‘abs’. But I’ve got news for you … it really isn’t. I tend to use Dr Stuart McGill’s statement:
‘The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors and quadratus lumborum’.(McGill, 2010)
He also includes the latissimus dorsi (‘lats’, which connect the arm to the pelvis) and the psoas (which connects the inner thigh to the spine) for linking the lower limbs to the upper limbs to the core.
He explains that as the glutes groups are used to stabilize the pelvis (keep you upright and maintain stability during walking and running), they can also be classed as core (think about the spine as a column that sits on top of the hips – if the hips are unstable, it will be like building a house on sand) (McGill, 2010).
Core training is often executed with misunderstanding, as many believe that moving the core (sit-ups etc.) is how to condition the core muscles. However, it is way more complex than that.
According to McGill, the primary purpose of the core is in fact preventing unwanted movement around the spine (not preventing movement full stop; there is a difference). This enables wanted movement in other areas (hips, shoulders etc.)
Core training is more about encouraging a sequence and creating anti-movement patterns rather than bending, extending and rotating the core itself. Whilst it is important to be able to perform these physical tasks, it is not completely necessary to train these specific tasks in order to condition the core.
Anti-movement exercises include those such as the single arm farmers’ carry, where the body resists lateral flexion (side bending). This may sound very unorthodox to many, but after working with numerous patients and having had a large injury profile myself, I found that once I grasped this knowledge, things started to get a whole lot better for both myself and my patients.
Core stability is another area that is surrounded by misconceptions. People usually think of core as balancing on balls and doing all kinds of weird and wonderful things that take you on a magical journey to NOWHERE!
A critical analysis by Wirth et al (2016) found that the myths and misconceptions that had plagued the fitness industry for quite some time needed to be debunked. Their findings were that traditional perceptions of how to condition the core were no more effective at doing so than typical strength training that involved deadlifting etc.
This is not intended to discredit exercise methods such as Pilates and others that are core-focused in their marketing. Instead, the aim is to bring to your attention the idea that what we once thought of as a core session would be usually a separate day of exercises. However, after the analysis conducted by Wirth et al, we now know that every exercise is indeed a core exercise.
Training the core has also been linked with injury prevention programs (Bilven and Anderson, 2013). This is not surprising, given that stability of the spine will allow better gross movement (think about when you squat, if the core didn’t create stability you would just flop over like a melted ice-cream).
By this I mean that if the spine isn’t secured by the core muscles, the brain will not allow movement that compromises the spinal cord.
Neuro-muscular control (the brains function with the muscular system) will play a significant role in core stability programmes, and that is why ‘Lifelong Movements’ has a focus on core strength endurance.
The death of the sit up
A point made again by McGill was that the injury risk of repeated sit ups doesn’t outweigh the rewards in comparison with other core conditioning exercises such as the plank. For example, in 2005, a study published in the US noted that sit ups attributed to 56% of the soldier’s low back injuries in Fort Bragg (BBC, 2016).
So, what can we do instead?
‘Lifelong Movements’ have the best core program in the world. I have used it quite often to increase clients’ core endurance and core control. It is bodyweight based and as simple as brushing your teeth. It can also be a good way to start synchronising your breathing with your movement (more on this next week.).
If you are interested in taking part in the program my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
It lasts for 4-weeks and you can thank me later.