by Carol Kelderman, PT DPT
There’s a lot of talk about core strength these days and everyone wants a beach body. But the core is really more than meets the eye. Did you know that you have a deep or inner core? And that your core has a floor? Some people think that a strong core is having “six pack” abs, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
I love anatomy and am constantly amazed by the intricate ways that our body works together to give us the function that we need. The core is actually made up of deep and more superficial stabilizing muscles.
Its main job is to be our center of stability where all movement begins and believe it or not, your posture and breathing make a big difference.
There’s more to the core
I often refer to the deeper core group as the anticipatory or inner core. These muscles include the breathing diaphragm, multifidus, transversus abdominis and the pelvic floor. These muscles work together to stabilize the body to prepare for or anticipate movement. Studies have shown that they activate before movement like lifting, taking a step or even reaching out. Without them, those mirror muscles don’t stand a chance.
The work of the outer or reactive core is also important and helps create movement on that stable base. These muscles are what a quick google search will typically tell you the core is all about. The rectus abdominis, obliques, paraspinals, glutes, lats and other popular muscles are important movers and worthy of press, but they can’t be our only focus.
Digging deeper in the core
So, let’s break down the deep core. You can think of it as a pressure control mechanism, similar to a full can of pop (AKA soda or Coke, depending on which part of the country you are from) with the respiratory or breathing diaphragm on the top, transversus abdominis on the front and side, multifidus in the back and pelvic floor muscles on the bottom.
- The diaphragm is the breathing muscle that creates a dome under the rib cage. Breathing is so important that it deserves its own article. But in short, an exhale helps to stabilize and can vary in intensity based on the demands of the activity.
- The transversus abdominis helps provide stability to the front and sides of the trunk. This compressor muscle acts like a corset to draw in the abdomen.
- The multifidus is a muscle, or really more of a group of muscles, that lie deep along both sides of the spine.
- The pelvic floor or “Kegel muscles” are more than just bathroom muscles. They play a crucial role in our stability, and like their counterparts, provide and accept pressure. They typically run into issues when the pressure they are forced to accept exceeds their capacity.
I like to think of this inner core group like a dimmer switch. When we are up and active, they are always “on” but some tasks require them to be turned up to high. Keeping them strong can be a challenge but it’s definitely worth the extra effort because in addition to loss of function, weakness in this muscle group can lead to a host of other issues. These issues can include poor posture, inadequate balance and difficulty walking or running correctly as well as back, hip or pelvic pain.
Physical Therapy and the core
As an orthopedic and sports focused Physical Therapist, I encounter patients who have worked hard to gain core strength but oftentimes end up with pain or dysfunction despite their best efforts. For example, athletes may have great leg or upper body strength but have difficulty with instability tasks or activities that challenge their core. Many times, the key to unlocking the potential lies in the right balance between muscles groups.
Your Kinetic Edge Physical Therapist can help you identify correct activation of your inner core. If you find it difficult, you aren’t alone. It can be trickier than it seems and those inner core muscles may need to be trained or taught to activate before they are a good team player in your strengthening routine. Contact us online or give us a call at 866-588-0230 with questions!