The core includes four elements that work together to create a well balanced center.
It’s a catch phrase in gyms, from Los Angeles to Dubai. If asked, most personal trainers, and lay people, will tell you that the core consists of your abdominals, and by abdominals, they're referring to the Rectus Abdominis (the six pack).
The four systems described below, stabilize the pelvis and the lower back when stress is placed on them; as in lifting your neighbor’s overweight two year old out of the sandbox, because he’s not sharing. Stabilization surrounding the spine is very important because the spine is mobile and delicate and would otherwise be vulnerable to injury and pain.
The Four Systems of The Core
There are four muscles that comprise the abdominals. The deepest of the four, the transverse abdominis, is considered one of the core elements.
I could get very ‘deep’ here but I don’t want you to stop reading, so let me just say that you can’t touch this muscle from the outside. It wraps around the torso, acting like a corset (don't act like you've never put one on gentlemen) which draws in the abdominals and decreases the diameter of the waist. Since the TA connects to the back, along the bottom of the ribcage, it has a great effect on posture. This is one of the reasons why strengthening the core can often assist with lower back pain.
The next layer out are the Internal obliques, on either side of the torso. These also affect body posture and assist in rotation and lateral flexion of the spine (side bending).
The External obliques are the next layer, also on either side of the torso and also assist in rotation and lateral flexion of the spine (side bending).
The most superficial of the four abdominals is the Rectus abdominis. These muscles can only flex the spine, and have the least affect on posture.
These are deep postural muscles of the spine that you can feel as a thin and taut bands on either side of the midline of the spine.
It’s the primary muscle of respiration, and forms a dome, attaching to the ribcage and spine. On the inhale, the diaphragm contracts and draws the top of the dome downward, toward the ribcage. On the exhale, or when it relaxes, the dome rises back up, pushing air out of the lungs.
The Pelvic floor
The pelvic floor holds in the contents of the abdomen up against gravity. The muscles of the pelvic floor control what comes out, like urine, and poop, and when. A weak pelvic floor may result in peeing in your pants. Trust me on this one.
When the transverse abdominis contracts, it creates tension in the covering that surrounds the multifidi. This covering acts like a sausage casing, with the multifidi being the filling- yummy. When the multifidi contracts against the tension of the casing, they gently hug the spine, stabilizing the joints between the vertebrae.
Activate the Transverse Abdominis
Lay on your back and put a ball between your knees. Hold the ball by gently squeezing it while someone tries to pry it away from you. I recommend doing this with a significant other.
Identify and Engage the Traverse Abdominis
Come onto your hands and knees. Inhale and drop your abdominals down without moving your spine. On the exhale, pull the abdominals up towards your spine without moving your back.
Engage the Multifidi
Stand up tall and gently place your four fingers on either side of your spine, with your thumb underneath your front bottom rib. Shift your weight from one foot to the other and see if you can feel the muscles plump up into your fingers.
Engaging the Pelvic Floor (Kegels)
Pretend you have to urinate and then stop the flow. That’s your pelvic floor. I think this works best when you actually have to urinate. Draw the sit bones (the boney part of your butt) together, and think about narrowing the pelvis.
Engage the Diaphragm
Curl your fingers under your low ribs. Inhale and feel the diaphragm as it expands into your fingers. Exhale, and feel the ribs drawing closer to one another. Try to breathe into your ribs, laterally, instead of with your stomach. There’s no pooching in Pilates.
The next time someone talks about the core as abdominals only, you can show them how wicked smart you are.