Core Beliefs: Important in Every Way
By Dr. Molly Casey
Have you ever driven a car whose engine purred but there was a mysterious noise while you drove it? You’ve taken impeccable care of the car, changing the oil every 3,000 miles, performed regular maintenance, done everything necessary to keep it running smoothly. But you let the sound go a little longer than you should have before getting it to the mechanic. The diagnosis then went a little like this: “You’re lucky you got this in when you did because the wheel bearings are shot.” You were right about the engine it was running just fine. However, the supporting structure was weak and would eventually cause a serious problem regardless of how well that engine worked. For those of you who don’t know cars, if the wheel bearings get bad enough, the wheels will fall off the car. That is a pretty darn important supporting structure. In your body, your core muscles are the most important supporting structure you have for proper spinal movement and function.
A weak core means improper spinal functioning in the lumbar spine which can lead to all sorts of back and neck issues; it can also negatively affect how well you digest, process, use and eliminate the food you eat -- and these symptoms are just the beginning. Core is a buzzword, especially at the gym, and few actually know much about it or how to strengthen it. What I know about people is the more information they have about why something is important or valuable, the more likely they will actually engage with it, i.e., carry out the exercises or change the habit and so on.
Core Structure, Responsibilities
The core muscles are the deepest layer of spinal muscles, the deepest layer of abdominal muscles (transverse abdominis), and the pelvic floor muscles. All movements begin at the core. Its functioning affects all you do. This group of muscles is collectively responsible for your overall stability and balance. The strength of your core affects your ability to hold proper posture and perform with integrity daily activities of life, play sports, and engage in any/all movements. If you are an exercise junkie, think stronger, more productive workouts. If you could care less about exercise, think about waking up less stiff and more flexible, picking up your kids without feeling that nagging pull in your low back, and being able to sustain longer days of physical work with fewer repercussions.
There are three steps to engaging the core and if you’re not doing all three, you’re not doing it. Practice first while lying on the floor. The idea is to perform steps 1-3 at the same time, holding longer and longer each time practiced. When you can do all three steps with a 60-second hold, move up to performing while in a seated position.
- Step 1: Flatten your back: Lying on the floor, knees bent, heels on the ground, push your low back flat onto the ground and hold.
- Step 2: Suck your belly button into your spine.
- Step 3: Lift your pelvic floor muscles -- the easiest way to grasp this is to pretend you were trying to stop the flow of urine (women know this as a kegel exercise).
Note: The trick to know if you are doing this correctly is to place two fingers just on the inside of the front of your hip bone as if you were moving toward midline. You should be able to feel muscles engage under your fingers when you suck your belly button in and, even more importantly (though often less distinctly), when you lift the pelvic floor muscles.
When you can comfortably engage/lock your core in a standing position, begin to implement it into your workouts and daily life. If you are not big into exercise, simply engage your core and hold it locked for a minute or two while you are at your desk or in the car three to four times per day. It’s that easy!
If you’re into exercise, allotting five minutes of specific core work is a solid approach -- this would include things like plank, side plank, balancing/proprioceptive work, hollow rockers and so on. Don’t forget though you can and should bring the locked core into all appropriate routines that don’t require belly breathing (with a locked core, there’s no belly breathing). This can include most of your weight lifting routines and even plenty of your cardio routines.
Chiropractic and Core
The core muscles -- like all muscles, structures, and organs -- are innervated by spinal nerves. A properly moving and functioning spine is required for proper brain-body communication and a properly strengthened core supports this spinal movement and function. A good strong core also aids the body in holding any chiropractic adjustment longer and with greater ease -- offering you greater benefit and more bang for your buck. Next time we see you in The Joint, ask us what our favorite core exercise is -- we’d love to share.
Dr. Molly Casey is a Doctor of Chiropractic who practices in the Los Angeles area. She works twice a week at The Joint’s Glendale, CA clinic.