If you have read any of my blog posts, you’ll know that Core work is one of my favorite things to discuss. Your “Core” is more than just your abdominals, or your “6-pack.” It’s an entire region of your body that is the center of your strength and power for movement. If you play any sport or do any physical activity, even just lifting a child or a laundry basket, having a strong core can be a game changer.
Form vs Function
Having 6-pack abs and having a strong core are 2 separate issues: one is something visible, the other is something useful. People who have 6 pack abs might also be strong, but they also just might be skinny. The visual demarcations of the Rectus abdominis (your 6 pack) depends more on diet and low body fat than it does on strength. I often refer to my 6 pack as being “insulated” or “safely padded.” You can’t see them as clearly as some people, but they are very strong. I care more about how my core functions than how it looks.
The Rectus abdominis is just 1 of 4 muscles that make up your abdominals. The Internal and External obliques create rotational movement, and the Transverse abdominis, which we often refer to as our “lower abs.” The Rectus abdominis creates forward flexion (bending forward) like in a crunch, while the Transverse abdominis creates stability in the spine and pelvis, and prepares the body for movement.
Other parts of the Core
In addition to the 4 abdominal muscles, the Core also consists of the Pelvic floor, the muscles along the spine, the Glutes, the hip flexors, and the inner thighs. All of these muscles work together to keep us moving, walking, lifting, standing, sitting, etc. with stability and power.
This is an entire region that makes up the foundation of our pelvis and our core. The pelvic floor supports all of our pelvic organs and keeps them where they belong. It affects our genito-urinary function as well. Some types of sexual dysfunction, and urinary or fecal incontinence can often be traced to a weak pelvic floor. Keeping this region strong can prevent leakage, organ prolapse, and keep your sexual function, well, functioning.
Erector Spinae Group
This is a group of 3 muscles that run vertically along either side of the spine. They help us stand upright, as well as create spinal extension (backward bending). They also contribute to lateral flexion (side bending). When you slouch for long periods of time, these muscles get overstretched. They feel tight, but in reality they are strained. Read this post to learn more about that concept. When the erectors are weak, you will struggle to stand up straight. This can lead to back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain.
This refers to 3 muscles, Gluteus Maximus, Medius, and Minimus that make up the buttocks. As I know from personal experience, you can go your whole life and never use your Glutes. The body is a master compensator. If one muscle doesn’t turn on, it will find a way to move anyway. The movement might not be as strong, stable, or efficient, but it’s gonna happen. Of course when you live your life in a constant state of compensation, your body starts to break down and hurt. Strengthening the Glutes keeps your lower back from hurting, and keeps your hamstrings from doing all the work. If you have chronically tight hamstrings, chances are you are not using your Glutes.
The Hip Flexors
This group of muscles lifts your leg forward (hip flexion) as well as allows your torso to move forward toward your legs, like in a forward bending pose like Uttanasana/Standing Forward Bend.
This muscle group allows you to lift your leg when going up stairs and is engaged (passively) when we sit. When you have been sitting for a long time and your lower back pulls when you stand up, you can usually thank tight hip flexors for that. This group includes the Iliopsoas (Iliacus + Psoas), Rectus Femoris (one of the Quadriceps) and the Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL).
The Adductors, or inner thigh muscles are the final part of the core. Functionally they help you balance and help keep your legs parallel when walking and moving. They create stability in your movements as they move the legs toward the midline. They balance out the Abductors, which are the Glutes. Having strong Adductors and Abductors is ideal, since when one group is strong and the other weak, you will often feel knee or lower back pain.
Putting it all together
All of these muscles work together to help you move with strength and ease. Strengthening these muscles and keeping them strong, will keep lower back pain at bay. You will have better stability and balance on your feet (and you hands if you like to go upside down). You will be able to lift and carry things safely by engaging all of these muscles. They work together to keep your body strong and out of pain as you age.
Coming in January: 10×10 Core Challenge, free in the Facebook Group! Take Ten 10-minute core classes over the course of 10 days to start the year off strong! January 3-12, take the classes live or on demand! You will strengthen all of the muscles mentioned in this post, and leave this challenge feeling amazing! Click here for more information or to sign up!
Join me every Friday morning for Mindful Core, 9:15-9:45am ET! In this 30 minute class we mindfully strengthen all of your core muscles in a way that is doable for all levels and abilities. You can take this class live online, or on demand whenever it fits into your schedule! If you have been thinking you need to work on your core, this class will help! My students love it (well, they love it when they’re done!). Click here to see the full schedule of classes, here to see the on demand library, and here to get your 10 Day Free Trial to Purple Room Yoga!
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