It seems like every gym ad, fitness infomercial, and DVD workout touts exercises that “build the core”. Six-pack abs and chiseled obliques on magazine models depict “strong and fit” core muscles and many of us search for exercises or trendy equipment that might transform our own tummies into flat, sculpted abdomens for all to admire. But are these perfect looking abs equivalent to a healthy core system? Are exercises such as decline oblique crunches and abdominal crunches really the secret to functionally fit abdominals?
It might be surprising to know that our core is actually a combination of TWO muscle systems that work synergistically to provide spinal stability, support our organs, and help efficiently move our bodies through space. The local muscle system, also know as the Pelvic Pyramid, consists of the transverse abdominis, multifidus, and pelvic floor muscles. These deep muscles, or “stabilizers”, attach directly to the pelvis and lumbar vertebrae and help pre-set our body for movement by stiffening or energizing prior to activity. These are also the muscles that support our organs and help maintain continence and allow us to successfully “squeeze when we sneeze” to avoid leakage. The global muscle system is comprised of the large muscles, or “movers”, that link our pelvis and trunk and help carry out large, integrated body movements. These include our more superficial muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, internal/external obliques, and rectus abdominis. which are traditionally referred to as our “abs”. For fitness purposes, the goal for all core strengthening exercises is to achieve optimal coordination of the local and global muscle groups in order to provide spinal stability and prevent pelvic health disorders caused by muscle dysfunction.
Flabby abs and beer bellies are sure signs that our global core muscle system may be weak and in need of conditioning. But less obvious is the changes that occur in our Pelvic Pyramid. It is common for this deep muscle system to weaken due to age, weight fluctuation, or changes due to pregnancy. This can lead to disorders such as stress/urge urinary incontinence, prolapse, pelvic pain, low back pain and balance deficits. If experiencing any of these conditions, it is especially important to achieve muscular balance and coordination when training these systems. As our deep core or stabilizing system weakens, our global or larger muscles can become dominant in an attempt to compensate for this imbalance and cause further problems such as increased spinal compression, compromised breathing patterns and worsening incontinence. It is important to be educated specifically on proper strengthening exercises directed at conditioning and integrating both systems of the core to promote pelvic health.
So whether you are out to get those washboard abs, anxious to make a little dent in your muffin top, or have your sights set on running that next 5K without stopping to pee, remember that true core fitness requires attention to both local and global core muscle systems.
For further information regarding specialized core training classes aimed at flattening tummies and improving continence, sexual function, sleep patterns, and balance, please contact Julie Yunaska, MPT, Pelvic Floor Specialist, Certified Total Control® instructor at Wholistic Fitness, LLC.
For information on physical therapy services for pelvic floor dysfunction, visit our webpage at www.wholisticfitnessonline.com/physical-therapy.php