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The 101 on your Core

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

I have always been a big believer in clients understanding the basic anatomy of their core to help them get the most out of their exercises so here it is in writing. There are 7 key players to think about when imagining your core so let's break that down...

1. First up is your six-pack ab muscles called your Rectus Abdominis (and yes we all have them even if some are a bit more hidden than others). Your Rectus Abdominis is the most superficial layer of the core and allows you to flex or bend your trunk forward.

2. Deeper and more laterally located we have the External Obliques which help with trunk rotation and side bending as well as assisting the Rectus Abdominis with trunk flexion.

3. Your Internal Obliques are located deeper again and perform the same actions as the External Obliques.

4. Your deepest layer of core muscle is the Transverse Abdominis which is a flat sheet of muscle that attaches onto the bottom edge of your rib cage and chest bone, top edge of your pelvis, and the connective tissue on your mid to lower back. Its main action is to compress the abdominal cavity - think of a corset drawing everything in to hold and support it. When you are cued by your Pilates teacher to "switch on your core", this is the muscle we are trying to get activated.

TIP: This should be a subtle draw in action not a clench as hard as you can action. For this reason, my go to cues are "draw your belly button gently to your spine" or "imagine you are trying to do the zipper up on a pair of jeans that are a bit too tight". We want to avoid "doming" through your abs aka don't let your tummy bulge up to the roof as you activate your core.

5. Along either side of your spine run small segmental muscles called your Multifidus. Although the Multifidus assist with some movements, they are primarily spinal stabilisers.

If you picture your trunk as a cylinder - the 5 muscles above make up the long round sides however there are also 2 more supporting muscles to make up the "lid" and "base" to the cylinder.

6. The Diaphragm sits underneath your lungs and attaches to the rim of your rib cage. It supports the lungs to allow you to inhale and exhale. As you inhale, the Diaphragm flattens and the pressure in your abdominal cavity increases making it easier to contract your Transverse Abdominis and compress and in turn support the abdomen.

7. The Pelvic Floor is the base of the cylinder and the final muscle of your "core". As you inhale and your diaphragm flattens, your abdominal organs descend and in turn lengthen the pelvic floor; as you exhale, your pelvic floor slightly lifts to return to its resting position.

TIP: Due to a coupled relationship between the Pelvic Floor and Transverse Abdominis cueing the Pelvic Floor (e.g. "holding in a wee") can be helpful to get the Transverse Abdominis to activate.

So that is the basic anatomy of your core... but WHY is that all important? I like to sum up the importance of the core muscle system with an analogy. Imagine a garden hose- when the tap is turned off and there is no water running through the hose, it is easy to bend and kink the hose, but when you turn the tap on, it becomes much harder to kink that hose. Now apply that to your body - imagine your trunk is the hose. When there is no core activation, your spine is more susceptible to injuries however when you get your core activating, you have an active muscular support system to help prevent these injuries from occurring.

That is the simple low-down on your core so that the next time your Physiotherapist or Pilates instructor tells you to "switch on your core", you understand what you are trying to achieve!

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