Movement Mechanics: The Core

A few weeks ago, I touched on how we should get back to the basics and focus on the body in terms of movement, not only muscles. This leads me to this new series: Movement Mechanics. Each article and associate podcast will cover a major movement pattern and continue to reframe our thinking to recognize the body as a collection of parts that move together in sync, not only in their individual roles. Before we get into our first week, I would recommend checking out both the podcast and article for each week of the series. We’ll expand on the information in the podcast, while the articles will offer pictures and visual representations of the topics.

Our core is the pillar for the beginning of all movement. It includes not only our abdominals but all muscles that connect our hips, torso, and shoulders.

muscles of the core.jpg
These are all the muscles of the core. As you can see, highlighted in yellow, it includes much more than only the “six-pack abs”.

As we move, we should reframe our thoughts, thinking of the body in terms of movements instead of muscles. The core is the center of these movements. By first building strength and maintaining control through our core, we lower the risk of potential injury and create more efficient movement of energy transfer through the body.

Lowering the Risk of Injury

This is true in both a workout and everyday life. Think carrying gallons of milk from the car into the house. While one of my clients said he carries 3 in one hand, I would maybe suggest a different way.

As we carry a heavy object, it wants to pull us to the side we are holding the weight. With a strong and braced core, we’re able to resist this movement. It keeps the spine in a stable position and protects the muscles of the core from under-going a severe twisting or pulling movement.

Energy Transfer

To understand how the core functions in the energy and movement transfer through the body, we have to look back at the musculature of the core. Noticing there are many layers and complex connections of muscles.

These muscles all work together to optimize human movement. When a dysfunction, such as a weakness in a specific muscle, occurs, the body will recruit a nearby muscle to compensate for the weakness temporarily. The issue presents itself when we allow these compensatory muscles to continue to be used over the long term.

If we are compensating with these muscles, over the scope of their normal use, they’re then not able to perform to the optimal capacity they are able in movements that do require them. Let’s keep looking at the hamstrings as an example. While they do play a part in the stabilization of the core, they primarily function in hip extension and knee flexion. As their “attention” so to speak is focused on the stabilization of the core, they may fatigue easier and become prone to injuries. It’s not impossible to accomplish, but the average person’s hamstring is not able to do both successfully.

Building Strength and Control

So how do we build this strength and control? Although the first core exercise that comes to mind may be crunches, it’s simpler than that. We must master proper breathing. We should expand the diaphragm and think about filling the lower abs with air. Exercises to practice this include crocodile and diaphragmatic breathing.

Once we learn to breathe correctly, in any exercise you do, focus on bracing. Bracing is the practice of drawing inward, creating a stable pillar, and engaging the muscles of the entire core, not only our abdominals.

The easiest way to do this is think about how you would react if someone were about to punch you in the stomach. You wouldn’t just suck in; you’d brace for the impact by drawing all of the muscles inward. This is the position you should start with during nearly all exercises.

Once braced, our body will be primed to execute the movement in a safe and efficient way. During a set, if we notice a loss of the bracing, simply pause and reset. Focus our attention on drawing inward. Once properly braced, move back into the exercise. Some exercises to practice bracing in a static position include planks and bear crawl holds.

After you’re comfortable bracing in a static position, we move into those exercises that both resist flexion of the core and maintain a braced position through flexion based movements. As we incorporate these exercises, such as stability ball ab rollouts and carry variations, we challenge our core in practical ways that increase strength and core control while reducing the risk of injury and optimizing movement transfer through the body.

The core. It’s the center of all movement and we must learn to practice proper control throughout daily living and in the gym. As we recognize the body in terms of movements, not muscles, we’re better able to perform and choose exercises that align with the optimal function of the body as a unit.

Remember, check out my latest podcast episode for a more in-depth talk about the core, exercise suggestions, and practical examples!

Do you want guidance on some exercises you can do at your current fitness level to enhance core control? Do you have fitness or nutrition related questions? Is there a topic you’d like to see a blog post or podcast about? Send me an email or tweet me your comments, questions, and suggestions!

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