“You need to work on your core.” Many of us have heard this, but what does that even mean? Do you know that all core work is not the same? Do you know that your true “core” is not just abdominal muscles but includes the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, and your back muscles as well?
Often, when people aim to build a stronger core, they get down on the floor and turn to the classic: crunches. While crunches and traditional gym exercises can help you build an amazing six-pack, you may actually be doing your body more harm than good. The abdominal muscles you’re training for your six-pack are superficial. Your true core includes deeper abdominal, pelvic floor, and spinal muscles that you can’t see. These deeper muscles are responsible for communicating to the brain at a subconscious level in ways that create stability in spinal joints and prepare the body for the movements created by the more superficial muscles (like those active in crunches). It is super important to strengthen these deeper core muscles to help stabilize your spine and joints and protect your body, so you can move, exercise, and develop that six-pack safely. To meet the demands that you put on your body during exercise, all of these core components must be working optimally. If one is not in synch, others will pick up the slack… but only for so long.
Performing flexion-based exercises to develop your core but failing to work on deeper core stabilization and extension exercises can lead to an imbalance in muscular strength that increases your risk of injury (think disc protrusion: yikes!). Back pain and injury are no fun, can require physical therapy to rehab, and can cause a set back in sports, daily activities, and even work. No thanks!
Consider this: strengthening through crunches, using heavy weights in overhead activities, deep squats, dead lifts, and dynamic ballistic exercises such as jumps, burpees, and running put intense, repetitive pressure on the pelvic floor (part of your true, deep core). If your pelvic musculature is unable to withstand this intra-abdominal pressure, accidents (yes, potty accidents) can happen. Unfortunately, even pelvic prolapse can occur. For me personally, this would certainly affect the joy I find in exercise.
Why not train from the inside out, so to speak, and strengthen your deeper muscles in conjunction with the superficial muscles fortified with traditional core exercises? Through Pilates, you can learn to strengthen your ENTIRE core, including your front abdominals, side abdominals, pelvic floor, and posterior core muscles. Creating a strong base will protect your internal organs and your spine and discs and help your joints and ligaments be in their best shape when you engage in intense, powerful, dynamic movements created by superficial musculature. You can even learn healthy and effective breathing techniques to strengthen your diaphragm, increase rib mobility, and better control intra-abdominal pressure so your exercise is safer and you experience greater core control. Careful execution of exercises that focus on strengthening your true, total core will allow safe performance of the daily activities and sports you love to do- all while keeping your body safe and functioning in an ideal fashion. That six-pack will be showing in no time, and you’ll be happy that you built a strong foundation for supporting those amazing jump squats and sprints.