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Marching into Core Strength

Updated: Mar 1

By Rachel Ames, MPT and Owner of Missoula OsteoStrong


Are you doing core exercises? Are you actually working your inner core?  Why is the inner

core so important?  Throughout our lives and especially as we age, having a strong core has a host of benefits besides, simply yet very importantly, preventing injury. The core is the central part of our body including the pelvis, hips, back and abdominal region.  It is composed of muscles that make up the inner core and outer core.  However, it is the inner core that is of utmost importance. 


Here’s a list of what you can achieve by improving inner core engagement and strength:

  • better balance and stability

  • proper and taller posture 

  • avoiding or decreasing back pain 

  • improved ability/ease with everyday activities and tasks 

  • not peeing your pants!

  • improved breathing patterns 

  • increased energy and stamina

  • better sex/orgasms

  • flatter stomach


Here at OsteoStrong, we encourage you to engage your inner core while on each growth triggering machine; however, the greatest engagement of the entire core is achieved on the Core Growth Trigger.  Some of you may be saying “I am not sure that I am actually doing that!”.  So let us help you optimize your results with each session by learning and practicing proper core engagement to accomplish even further benefits to your overall health and longevity. This starts by knowing the anatomy of your core, understanding how the muscles work and ultimately the biomechanics of proper inner core engagement. Continue reading to learn more about your core anatomy, it’s importance and exercises you can do at home to help strengthen.


Inner Core Anatomy

We can easily classify the core in two sets of muscles. The outer core is composed of the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and erector spinae. These muscles work together to allow you to flex, complete lateral flexion and rotation of the spine.  The inner core includes the transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, diaphragm and multifidus muscles. These muscles provide stability, control and balance for the spine and extremities.


Multifidus: The Powerhouse

The multifidus muscle lies deep in the lumbar spine spanning three joint segments and works to stabilize the joints at each segmental level.  The lumbar vertebrae carry the most body weight and are subject to the most force and stress along the spine. The multifidus muscle keeps us vertical, takes pressure off the discs and is critical for lumbar stability.  The multifidus was formerly thought to be relatively unimportant muscle based on its fairly small size but recent research shows that it’s actually the strongest muscle in the back because of its unique structure.  Now it is known that injury to the spine (including surgery to treat spinal disorders) may disrupt the multifidus, decreasing spinal stability and increasing lower back pain.  Therefore this is why it is of utmost importance to retrain this muscle as soon as possible when injury occurs.


The Transversus Abdominis

The transversus abdominis is the deepest abdominal muscle which functions to hold the viscera in and compress the abdominal wall. Its fibers run transversely, holding the belly in like a drawstring that runs all the way around the back and attaches to the lumbar fascia. And because the transversus abdominis runs transversely, it has little to no effect in flexing the spine. It is mainly a stabilizer, not a mover. And that’s why it’s so important for core stability, and that is also why we can achieve proper engagement when the spine is in neutral. For when the spine is out of neutral position, the other 3 abdominal muscles are now contributing to the movement, and we are no longer practicing proper stability.


The Pelvic Floor 

The pelvic floor holds up and tones the genitals and anus and keeps other organs from bearing down and prolapsing, and it also supports the bottom of the core by lifting up from below. Some say the pelvic floor interdigitates with the transversus abdominis and the multifidus. When the pelvic floor engages, one should feel a deeper engagement of the transverse abdominis and multifidus. This contraction creates tension around your bladder, anus and vagina therefore crucial for bowel and bladder control.


The Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle involved in breathing and acting as the “top” of the core. It regulates pressure throughout the core, enhancing your ability to lift heavier loads safely while assisting in maintaining core stability.  When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts and dips downward, allowing air to enter the thoracic cavity.  On the exhale, the diaphragm eccentrically contracts and draws up, pulling up the pelvic floor, which in turn helps to draw the belly in and lift the lumbar spine closer to the center of the body. (Proper breathing techniques have a host of positive effects that will be addressed in the future.) 



At-Home Exercises

Find Neutral Spine

Start by sitting, lying or standing.  Practice rocking your pelvis, with hands on your hips, don’t allow your knees to flex if in standing.  When you tip your pelvis all the way forward and stick out your tailbone, you are in anterior pelvic tilt.  Now try pulling your tailbone under and rounding your back, this is posterior tilt.  Return to anterior tilt and from there try falling slightly back towards posterior.  You will find a comfortable position just as you begin to fall back.  This is your Neutral Spine. Your pelvis and hands will be level to the ground.


Abdominal Bracing

Doing these five steps with less than an all-out effort and proper positioning creates a complete core brace exercise. 

  1. Take a breath in, lowering the diaphragm, emphasizing the expansion of your rib cage, and focus on your pelvic floor muscles at the base of your pelvis.  

  2. As you exhale and diaphragm raises, contract the pelvic floor by imagining you are slowly shutting off the urine flow, partially holding back gas, and closing the vagina. You can also imagine drawing the two sides of your pubic bone in front closer to the two sides of your tailbone in back, forming a “hammock” lifting up from the center. For men, think of pulling up, sucking in your family jewels. Contract gradually and slowly, like you are turning down a dimmer switch, using less than your maximum effort to close the openings and gently lift them. These are also called Kegel contractions. Keep breathing into your rib cage. Download the file "How to Strengthen/"Lift" the Pelvic Floor" for these specific exercises below.

  3. While you hold the pelvic floor tension, add in a contraction of your transversus abdominis without moving your back or pelvis. Start by palpating your lower abdomen 1-2 inches inside your hip bones with your finger tips.  Now imagining that a seat belt is wrapped firmly around your lower belly and is flattening or hollowing the lower belly wall.  Think about pulling inward with your belly so that you feel a light contraction under your fingers.  Your fingers should not push outward - that would indicate you are engaging your outer core.  The transversus abdominis muscle will create a tension low and deep in the abdominal wall and you should feel that type of contraction under your fingertips.  Another cue is to imagine that you are trying to pull your belly and back off the waistband of your pants.

  4. Finally, engage the multifidus by tensing the muscles next to your spine.  Imagine a line that connects your left and right SI joint/bones in the back of your pelvis and think about drawing them together or imagine a zipper running from the tailbone up to the lower lumbar region without arching your back. 

  5. Continue breathing into your rib cage while holding a low level contraction in the pelvic floor, transversus and multifidi muscles so you still feel tension below your belly button where you are palpating with your finger tips.


How to Strengthen Lift the Pelvic Floor
.pdf
Download PDF • 148KB

It takes practice, concentration and focus on the muscles to time and sequence the effort of your core from the inside. You must train the muscles to activate before you strengthen them.


Activation Plan

  • Start by activating and holding the core brace for 5 seconds. Work up to 10 seconds.

  • Repeat the bracing sequence 5 times in a row progressing repetitions as appropriate.


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