Core Muscle AnatomyThe first step to strengthening is understanding the moves and how to do them correctly with basic anatomy. Think of the core as a muscle box where the:
- The front is the abdominals
- The back is the spinal stabilizing muscles
- The base is the pelvic floor
- The top is the diaphragm
- The sides are the hip muscles
- The body flexes and extends whenever bending forward and standing up
- The body does a lateral side bend when bending the trunk to one side
- The body rotates the trunk when twisting the torso
Muscle WeaknessThe transverse abdominus tends to suffer from neglect which is one reason why it becomes weakened. This increases the risk of developing back pain. Another reason is that individuals have a weak muscle is they exercise in one-plane of movement. Not working out the core muscles in all planes of motion can contribute to back pain. For example, if an individual performs pelvic tilts, they are only moving in one plane when tilting the hips forward and back, known as flexion and extension. To achieve optimal/functional strength, the core workout needs to include side bending and twisting movements.
Strengthening The Transverse Abdominus
Pigeon PoseMany individuals sit for extended amounts of time and are excessively tight along the sides and hips. The first step should be to increase the hip’s mobility before strengthening the core. If the hip muscle’s fibers become shortened, it can affect hip joint function and efficiency during core movement. The Pigeon Pose is a hip opener. How to do it:
- Get on the floor with the knees and palms on the ground.
- Slide the left leg back so the hip is extended, then externally rotate the right hip/turn the right leg out from the hip. Focus on positioning the right shin perpendicular to the body.
- Extend the trunk so the body is upright, lifting the chest, arching the back, and looking toward the ceiling, while resting the fingertips on the floor a little forward of the hips.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds and switch sides.
- This stretches the hip flexor muscles in the extended leg and the rotator and outer hip muscles in the flexed leg.
Pay Attention To The Engaged MusclesIndividuals can train the transverse muscles to activate faster and more effectively throughout the day by slowing down and paying attention to moving with more intent. Place the hands around the waist and engage the core to feel the muscles contracting. This will help get a feel for the movement. Once comfortable remember to engage these abdominal muscles before and while reaching, twisting, or lifting items.
Pelvic TiltThis exercise is vital for building the smaller muscles that support a healthy core. How to do it:
- Lie on back with knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Engage the transverse muscles and gently tilt the pelvis upward.
- Return the pelvis to a neutral position.
- Start with 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Standing ExercisesTranslating core strength into functional strength and pain-free movement progresses to standing exercises that require rotation. One example is a standing lunge with rotation. How to do it:
- Get into a lunge stance with the front leg flexed 90 degrees at the hip, knee, and ankle. The rear leg should be extended at the hip with the knee touching or almost touching the floor.
- Twist from the waist. When comfortable doing this movement, hold weight like a dumbbell, medicine ball, or gallon jug of water in both hands, and gradually increase the weight as the muscles get stronger.
Improved Body Composition
Functional fitness and the ability to move about comfortably not only benefit physical wellness but also improves body composition. The aging process reduces the metabolic rate, which leads to increased body fat. Lean Body Mass gets lost from age and inactivity. Lean Body Mass contributes to the overall Basal Metabolic Rate, also known as the body’s metabolism. It is the number of calories the body needs to support essential functions. Engaging in strength training or resistance exercises will help regain the muscle loss from aging/inactivity, and can lead to an increase in lean body mass.