First and “Core”most

So, after several blog posts over the past few weeks, I am finally going to write a little something about the stuff I know best – the human body and how to get it healthy and in shape. (I can go on and on about this stuff, so I will try really hard to keep it to a minimum!)

Some people may think that our feet and legs are the foundation of our bodies, since we stand and walk on them all day long. Think again. The muscles that make up the core are, by far, the most important to our body’s foundation.

I grew up in a very old colonial home in New Hampshire that had a stone foundation. If those stones started to wiggle out of place or shift under the frame of the house, the entire house could be compromised. You may have seen a crack up a wall or a crooked doorframe all because some of the stones in the foundation may have shifted. My dad would have to cement the stones into place and reinforce the foundation to make sure that the house remained strong and healthy.

Now take that entire visual and apply it to the human body. Your body is the house and your core muscles make up the foundation. If you don’t strengthen the core muscles, the body becomes vulnerable and is at risk of injury. That doorframe could be your shoulder joint. The crack up the wall may be your low back. So, what muscles are we talking about, exactly? And, how the heck do I “cement them into place?!”

You have prime movers and stabilizing muscles within your body. The core is made up of stabilizers – the transverse abdominus, internal obliques, lumbar multifidus, pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm. (Prime movers are muscles like your quadriceps, biceps and latissimus dorsi – the muscles that actually move your limbs).  Your transverse abdominus runs horizontally around your mid-section acting like a natural girdle. The internal obliques basically run between your lower ribs diagonally to the top of your pelvis, or your iliac crest. They allow you to bend forward and side to side as well as aid in torso rotation. The lumbar multifidus runs from the pelvis up the lumbar spine and attach to each vertebrae allowing spinal extension, or backward bending. The diaphragm acts as a “top hat” to the core. Think of it almost in a jelly fish shape sitting between your ribs, spine, and sternum. The diaphragm moves down increasing the volume in the thoracic cavity upon inhalation and moves up aiding in exhalation.  The pelvic floor musculature sit at the bottom of the core around the inside of the pelvis.

One of the easiest exercises you can do anywhere to help strengthen the core is breathing exercises! Place your hands on your belly and inhale. Allow your chest and belly to expand as your lungs fill with air. Now exhale and feel how the belly shrinks. Inhale again and in this next exhalation I want you to exhale forcefully through pursed lips, like you are going to blow out a birthday candle that is sitting across the room from you. Your diaphragm is moving upward to aid in air moving out of your lungs and at the same time your naval is moving inward toward your spine, engaging the transverse abdominus and shrinking your waist. With every exercise you do (squats, chest presses, lat pulldowns, etc.) you should think about your naval drawing in toward your spine and slightly upward with every exhale.

The plank is probably one of the most well-known “core exercises.” You will not only do them in pilates and yoga classes, but you now find them in strength training and abs classes as well as during personal training sessions. The plank is an isometric contraction using your body weight against gravity. You can do them on your hands or on your forearms. There are many forms of the plank, but the most important things to remember are to keep your head tall on top of your cervical spine and your nose pointing straight at the floor (unlike what I am doing in the pic) ;) , your shoulders remain strong and down away from your ears, lengthening your neck. You breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. With every exhale I want you to think about your naval drawing up and in, targeting the transverse abdominus and cinching the waistline. Your hips are square to the floor and your legs remain straight. See how long you can hold that position for! Once you have the basic hold down, try lifting one leg, then press that raised leg out to your side, try a plank on a bosu, then to a ball, then with your feet raised off the floor as well (pictured), then lift one leg from there!

There are hundreds of core exercises including variations and progressions, but the down-to-the-roots basics are breathing and posture.  If you can get those two things down and maintain proper breathing and proper posture throughout all core exercises, the stability will come and your house will grow stronger!

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2 Responses to First and “Core”most

  1. [...] New York City. As a young child, even on my longest trek into the woods behind my old colonial, stone-foundation home, I dreamt of living in NYC. So I did. And there, I trekked city blocks, climbed 6-floor walk-ups [...]

  2. Terilynn says:

    Thanks Emily!! I didn’t realize all that about the core. Nice analogy with the house comparison. I guess we will be doing more plank, torturous planks, when I see you!! hehehe

    Seriously, they are not bad, i will practice.
    :)

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