Cultivating a Strong & Integrated Core
It might not mean what you think it means!
What is the "core" anyway?
The core consists of the deepest layers of muscles in the body. When visualizing the core of a human body, think about an apple core - it's the deepest part and runs along the axis. Core muscles include: the deep muscles of the spine, the deep layers of abdominal muscles (psoas and transverse abdominus), the muscles of the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, and the inner muscles of the ribcage (inner intercostals).
Myths About Core Myth #1: Core strength is about getting a "6-pack" and/or a "flat tummy"
The muscle that creates the 6-pack appearance is the rectus abdominus muscle, the most superficial abdominal muscle (which makes it inherently not a core muscle). More often than not, the main role that an overly worked-out rectus abdominus plays in core strengthening is that it interferes; in the case of someone with a "cut" stomach, often the rectus needs to relax and soften in order to access the real core body.
Myth #2: I should do "sit-ups" to strengthen my core.
It's possible to do something that resembles a sit-up or a crunch that might fire up the core muscles, but more often than not, "traditional-fitness-sit-ups" tend to activate muscles (like the rectus abdominus) that are not part of the core. Many people who do a lot of sit-ups have to go through a process of un-doing all the unbalanced strength they accumulated which interferes with true core awakening.
Myth #3: If I go to pilates classes, it means I am definitely working my core.
It is possible, and common, to participate in exercises that are considered core-targeted in essence, but end up using muscles other than the core. REALLY using the core in core-targeted exercises requires skill and nuanced understanding of how to engage internally.
What do you mean by an "integrated" core?
In this context, integrated means that we aren't talking about a randomly strong core that is discreet and isolated. The core should be strong in the sense of being healthy, alive, and powerful in a way that is appropriate relative to the rest of the body. If someone has a very strong, contracted core and very weak limbs and outer-layer muscles, then in order for that person to cultivate an integrated core and an integrated body, he/she would need to focus on releasing and lengthening the core and strengthening the weaker non-core muscles.
Why work on the core body? Protect your back!
An appropriately strong and healthy core will ensure that your back doesn't have to work overtime. As the core muscles get stronger, they also also lengthen, providing a sturdy structural support for the spinal column, preventing spinal compression and related ailments. Diminish chronic tightness and muscular compensation patterns.
If some muscles are under-working, others will be over-working. This manifests differently in every person. Changes in other layers of your being.
As you create a stable core, examine changes that might occur in your mental and emotional body and in other parts of your life. The state of the core is the physiological expression of something deep inside of you.
Research shows that maintaining a normal weight helps protect your brain. Overweight or obesity symptoms are more likely to be associated with impaired cognitive function later in life.
Combine these with symptoms of high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, and the decline rate is much faster. Current trends focus on maintaining a healthy body weight and the present overall body health. Most research shows to maintain a healthy body weight, 80% is nutrition and 20% exercise.
Let’s move beyond nutrition, beyond current healthy body weight. What keeps the brain strong? What will maintain a healthy brain into later years? Exercise - exercise that includes functional movement.
Exercise should be intense enough to not only raise the heart beat and increase blood flow, but also include movements which utilize multiple muscle groups simultaneously to replicate functional, daily movements; lifting, stretching, turning, stooping. By coordinating movements simultaneously, neuromuscular pathways of the brain are built and strengthened; developing mind-to-muscle communication.
Developing strong mind-to-muscle communication is the process that ignites movement from brain waves. Every movement is driven by neurological impulses. Having strong mind-to-muscle communication allows for safe physical reactions; prevent a fall after a slip, maintain balance, lifting and carrying heavy loads.
Learning how to improve mind-to-muscle communication requires starting with the basics. A trained fitness or health professional can evaluate muscle strengths and weaknesses and provide moves which will develop weaker muscles by integration of all parts of the body leading to well synchronized movements. Over time, the neurological impulses between the mind and the muscle, improve and will react quicker improving strength, agility and balance.
The development of mind to muscle communication, healthy eating and regular physical activity will not only serve well in the present to maintain a healthy weight, but more importantly, preserve brain function and improve cognitive functions later in life.