The Whys Behind Proper Core Exercise
The "core", as defined in “The Core Muscles of Core Exercises”, is more than those six-pack muscles. In fact, it has a lot more function than making you look sexy.
The core should work together, or work synergistically. What does this mean? When training the core, you should train it as a unit, the way it works as you breath and move throughout the day. The core is a system that only functions when the entire system is working in coordination. Working one aspect of the core without considering the other parts is pointless. It’s like doing a clam shell when you are capable of doing a single-leg deadlift. It may benefit a little, but it’s not the most efficient or effective movement.
Just as we shouldn’t work muscles separately, we also shouldn’t use our core without using the diaphragm and pelvic floor. In fact, our muscle activity should be tied with both respiration (breathing) and functional movement. All trunk muscles along with the diaphragm and pelvic floor help modulate intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) to create stabilization. When abdominal and back musculature, the diaphragm and the pelvic floor work together, the entire system is a well-oiled machine that has both stability and strength.
When the core is stabilized through breathing and the muscles work synergistically, the body is able to function optimally.
- Abdominal and pelvic organ support
- Including proper and timely use of orifices (i.e. pee’ing and pooping when you want to and not just because you are vomiting, sneezing, lifting or coughing)
- Movement control and mobility
- “Dynamic core stability for optimal athletic performance is not achieved purely by adequate strength of abdominals, back extensors, gluteals or any others muscles in isolation, but is accomplished through precise coordination of the ISSS and IAP regulation.”(1)
The Hows to Core Exercise
1. Through the Breath
The breath (and therefore the core) should be three things - reflexive, anticipatory and reactive.
Reflexive Core & Breathing
Just as you don’t tell your eyes to close or your arm to move, you don’t want to tell your diaphragm to inhale and exhale.
Not sure what a reflexive breath looks like? Well, as we inhale (breath in), our diaphragm descends and the pelvic floor should relax, this allows the lower ribs to expand (outward and downward) and allows the abdominal wall to relax and expand. The breath inwards should be felt in a 360 degree expansion which means you should feel the breath in your pelvic floor, the sides of your abdomen and even in your back. Then, as we exhale, our diaphragm ascends and creates a gentle tension throughout the pelvic floor, abdominal wall as well as lumbar and thoracic musculature to create a support system.
Anticipatory Core (Feed-Forward Control Mechanism)
Before working, our brain sends signals that are beyond one’s consciousness to tell the body to be prepared for movement before any purposeful movement occurs
All muscles that surround the anticipatory core creates the reactive core stabilization
2. Through Relaxing
Overtime pulling your abs in (aka suck your belly button in aka navel to spine aka holding the abs) creates a disconnect in the core system. So stop sucking in and forcing your abs to work, let them relax and work as they should. Not sure how they should work? Well, it’s through a reflexive, anticipatory and reactive core. You cannot have true core stability without letting your body do what it should.
What about tone?
The goal for core strengthening exercises should be to train the core to function optimally through stability, which includes a deep, diaphragmatic, reflexive breath.
But alas, I will concede and talk about those sexy abs. When people think about the core and those six-pack abs, they often think about tone.
Tone is affected by many things including:
- Breathing strategies
- Posture and alignment
- Digestion and constipation
- Nutrition and hydration
- Neurologic disconnect
- Poor exercise choices
- Pelvic floor dysfunction
I know it's not the answer you wanted, but exercise is just ONE of the MANY ways to "tone those abs" and get a six-pack.