You have one. You use it everyday. Question is - are you using it enough to flatten your abdominals and strengthen your back?
The core, as we commonly call it, is the centre point of our body from which we can dictate movement and stability of our head and limbs. Comprised of a series of intricate muscles of many angles and sizes, we are ultimately only as strong as our weakest link. So how strong is your core?
This week I'm exploring the very foundation of your core muscles, a muscle called the transversus abdominus, and how to get it on side to effectively support your spine.
Never heard of it - then read on!
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Common Symptoms of Weak Core Muscles - Lower back instability
- Sacro-iliac dysfunction/pain - Muscle spasms and/or hypertension - Disc herniations
- Degenerative disc disease
- Abdominal and inguinal hernias
- Digestive and elimination problems
Anatomy of the Core Muscles
I've been taught to consider the core muscles to essentially form a letter 'J' from the sternum on the anterior part of the body across and down to the pelvis, under the sex organs and anus, and up and across the entire back to the base of the skull. I'm sure you'd agree that that's a vast area and extends well beyond the scope of the traditional core muscle - the rectus abdominus, a.k.a. the 8-pack. The muscles and connective tissues that form the letter 'J' include the diaphragm, intercostales, rectus abdominus, transversus abdominus, external obliques, internal obliques, pelvic floor muscles, visceral fascia, thoraco-lumbar fascia, latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum and erector spinae. Imagine getting those all on board to work in synchrony and big, compound movements such as the squat, lunge, deadlift and rope climb. Your body would reward you with a greater level of health, happiness and vitality!
The Natural Corset
The transversus abdominus is the unknown core muscle and I'd argue the most important to learn how to reactivate.
We begin life using this muscle quite naturally and if you've seen a baby breathing, you'll notice how their belly rises and falls with each inward and outward breathe, with little to no movement in the shoulders. I discussed this interesting phenomenon in a previous article that you can read more about here:
As we reach teenage years we tend to switch our respiratory pattern from diaphragmatic breathing to chest and shoulder breathing. It's my theory this is done subconsciously as we become more body aware around our friends and peers. Due to the whole idea that a flat abdomen ALL THE TIME is the best look and healthy choice (look at the front of any bodybuilder or fitness magazine), we retrain our neuro-muscular system to no longer recruit the transversus abdominus in an attempt to keep 'our tummy in'. As a result, our core foundation weakens, we over-train the rectus abdominus (because again the 8-pack is the conceived perfect look) and begin to imbalance our delicate chain of anatomy that is critical to the support and attenuation of forces for our entire musculo-skeletal system.
I class this muscle as the natural corset or weight belt because when you retrain this muscle it will serve two purposes - flatten your abdominal wall and strengthen your lower back - due to it's attachment and interactions with the core muscle group.
It's been over 18-years since I performed a traditional sit-up. Ever since I discovered this hack that I'm sharing with you today, it no longer made any logical sense to perform this traditional exercise that is still common in gyms all over the world.
Think about it - other than performing this exercise - when do you actually execute this movement on a daily basis? Where is the functional cross-over to daily movement or sport?
The only ones I could come up with were getting out of bed in a morning or getting up from the ground if you get knocked down in a sport.
I challenge you to attain a stronger core and back without performing any sit ups. It can be done. My First Aid for Pain Relief programs start to teach you the basics to prepare your body for daily movement and postures. I created these programs from my 20+yrs in the health and fitness field, having studied with some of the greats, through extensive research and, most importantly, having worked with thousands of patients to address their muscle stress, tension and pain.
Generate A Non-Compressible Cylinder
If there is only ONE thing to remember from this article - here it is - my golden nugget! When you learn to retrain the transversus abdominus muscle (see video below), you can then activate, at will, to help PROTECT your spine and pelvis and RECRUIT all your core muscles collectively to help DISSIPATE the load that you are having to deal with.
The easiest example is bending over to pick something light off the floor. Here are the simple steps to follow:
1. Take a deep diaphragmatic breath and allow the transversus abdominus to expand.
2. Hold the breathe and now draw your belly button inward toward your spine, flattening your abdomen as much as you can without engaging your 8-pack muscles. The flattening happens due to the engagement of the transvesus abdominus muscle. Here you can also squeeze the pelvic floor muscles.
3. Keeping your breathe held, and belly button drawn inward, bend over to pick up the item.
4. As you extend to an upright position, slowly release the held breathe through pursed lips.
By following these simple 4 steps, you effectively just created what is known as a non-compressible cylinder. A simple analogy is to imagine an empty plastic Evian water bottle. With the lid sealed tight and air trapped inside, it takes a lot of force to try to crush that water bottle. Remove the lid and it is easy to crush the same water bottle with very little effort. The sequence I'm describing above is analogous to sealing the water bottle and trapping the air within the cylinder of the bottle. Indirectly, we decompress the lumbar verterbrae, recruit the letter 'J' chain of core muscles and share the demand to the group of muscles designed to help lift and extend our body.
Restoring Balance in 5-Steps
Move - increase your body temperature and blood flow to all your muscles.
Massage - using a lacrosse ball or foam roller to agitate the muscles.
Mobilize - move the joints in their full range of motion.
Stretch - focus on lengthening the short-tight muscles.
Corrective Exercise - focus on strengthening the long-weak muscles.
The transverus abdominus muscle would be considered a long-weak muscle that needs to be activated and retrained. Follow my video instruction below to immediately start paying off your postural debt and effectively retrain your core muscles for flatter abs and a stronger back!
Any questions, you can reach me at my clinic by phone: 403 589 4645 or email: email@example.com
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Yours In Muscle Health,
Jason Barlow, RMT
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