Activ8 Advice: Getting to the Core of Your Core

By PCYC Lang Park Fitness Professional, Leigh Kable

As a trainer, it can be challenging to relay what activation of a muscle feels like, especially if that muscle is weak or inhibited. Activating an internal muscle such as the pelvic floor which you cannot see or touch, is very different to activating a limb such as the quad where you can actually feel and observe the contraction. So in an attempt to explain core function to a client once, I showed an anatomical video of the pelvic floor relaxing and contracting, and I can still remember the look of fascinated consternation on my client’s face!

So, what is the core, and how do we train it? And why is the core so important?

Core training is the ability to activate the core muscles and to work them synergistically with each other to maintain or improve stability and/or force production in the trunk and prime movers and joints.

When talking about core muscles, we usually are referring to the muscles in the pelvis, lower back and abdomen with the addition of the back extensors which run the length of the spine, and arguably, the gluteus medius and minimus which help to stabilise the hips.

The two main functions of the core muscles are stabilising or producing movement and some muscles can perform both. Additionally, the internal core muscles notably the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis (known more often as the TA) help support the internal organs both in position and function.

The pelvic floor is very important in maintaining good bladder and bowel control. At certain times of life, such as after childbirth or after some types of surgery which interferes with the pelvic floor it may be necessary to do pelvic floor exercises to regain good bladder control, and motivation for exercise adherence is probably very high! It is hard to think that without this control we would want to avoid coughing, sneezing, laughing, jumping, running or even sitting in public for fear of an embarrassing accident.

Other core muscles that work with these already mentioned are the internal and external obliques and the rectus abdominis that control flexion, rotation and stabilisation of the spine. Remember when exercising there must be a balance between these muscles. If for example, you do too many crunches without activating the other core muscles, the result may be visibly bulging upper abs, but weak lower abs and overworked hip flexors. People often do multiple crunches in the hope of achieving a flat stomach, when this approach will in fact achieve the opposite!

Well balanced, efficient core muscles therefore have many functions and play a role in daily life, such as balance and posture, the ability to breathe effectively and for the body to be able to evenly distribute weight without any one muscle or muscle group having to overcompensate. Overcompensation over a period can lead to a domino effect of malfunction which can result in postural deficiencies and possibly injury or chronic pain.

Some form of core training is a necessary addition to any fitness regime, whether this may be specific such as Pilates, Swiss Ball, TRX, body weight balance and posture work, or some floor work fitted in at the end of a workout. Core training will assist all of your workouts in a positive way whether this be weight training, running, swimming, golf, paddleboarding, horse riding.…the list is endless.

The next time you are in the car or at the bus stop do a quick postural assessment for yourself, get rid of the slouch, and start the core activation with the pelvic floor!