The Importance of COREFeb 12, 2021
Today’s post is by Team Member Emily Griswold, a certified athletic trainer with an emphasis in performing arts medicine.
Did you know that your core is the foundation of ALL movement? As you read this, raise your arm out to the side into a “T” position. Now guess which muscles were the first to contract to make that movement happen… If you guessed your CORE, then you are correct! Without that core activation, the simple act of raising your arm out to the side would have made you fall over (okay, you can put your arm down now!) A strong and stable core is essential for efficient movement and can help reduce the risk of injuries in other areas of the body (especially the lower back). And when I talk about the core, I’m not just talking about the “6-pack abs” – I mean the entire cylinder of muscles deep in the center of your trunk that help stabilize and support your body throughout all movement.
What muscles make up the core?
The deepest abdominal muscle, known as the transverse abdominis (or shortened to “TA”), is sometimes referred to as the “anatomical corset.” It wraps around your trunk and when contracted, compresses everything inward. This helps provide stability to your spine and creates a stable basis for movement of the extremities. Additional abdominal muscles include the rectus abdominis, known as the “6-pack” abs, and the internal and external obliques, which are helpful for side bending and twisting movements. But your core doesn’t end there! In addition to the abdominal muscles, there are muscles deep in your back known as “multifidi” that contribute to a stable foundation. To complete the cylinder of muscles that make up the core, we also include the diaphragm on top and pelvic floor on the bottom. These muscles all work together to support your limbs throughout movement, and thus require a level of stability to do this effectively.
Why is the core important?
Consider this – on which surface is it easier to run quickly: concrete or dry sand?
Running on dry sand is very difficult because the sand is loose and shifts under your feet, making it difficult to push off and propel yourself forward. Running on concrete is a bit easier because the ground isn’t moving beneath you! Now think of your core as your running surface – when the core is stable (like concrete), your limbs can move more efficiently. If your core is unstable (like dry sand), your muscles have to work even harder to get the job done. This is not only inefficient, but can also lead to overuse injuries because the foundation is not solid.
The low back is especially susceptible to injury due to weak abdominal muscles, due to the core’s large role in providing stability to the spine throughout movement. A weak core can also contribute to movement compensations, which is when the brain recruits other muscles to help with a particular movement or to provide stability. The hip flexors are typically the muscles that are recruited when the core is weak or fatigued. This incorrect activation of the hip flexors instead of the core can potentially lead to tight hips and cause the bowl of the pelvis to spill forward, or anteriorly, adding stress to the lower back.
How can I properly train my core?
One of the best things you can do to make sure you are preparing your core to provide a solid foundation for movement is to “wake it up” before performing activity. This is an aspect of your warm-up that focuses directly on engaging the entire cylinder of your core and can help you to keep it engaged throughout your dance class or workout. Take a few minutes before your next dance class or workout to practice these 3 core activation exercises:
1. TA Activation with Breath
Both the TA and the diaphragm play a role in core stability, so this exercise allows you to access both simultaneously. Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Begin by focusing your breath to expand your abdomen in all directions (not just the front body, but through the sides and back of the body as well). On your next exhale, focus on drawing the belly button inward toward the spine. Nothing else in your body should move other than your belly button (don’t let your hips rock). Practice holding this position through a few cycles of breathing, then relax. Repeat 3-5 times.
Begin this movement by performing a TA activation (exercise 1, above). While maintaining this contraction, exhale and squeeze your glutes to gently lift your hips off the ground, leaving your shoulders in contact with the floor. Make sure to maintain that TA activation throughout the movement, especially at the top. Gently lower your hips back toward the ground. Slowly repeat 5-10 times.
3. Dead Bugs
This exercise is helpful in maintaining core activation while the extremities are moving. Start lying on your back with your arms reaching toward the ceiling and knees in a tabletop position. Activate the TA to provide stability, and then begin to extend your opposite arm and leg away from the center, straightening the leg to hover above the floor and the arm extended overhead. Return to the starting position, and then repeat on the other side. Make sure to maintain the TA activation throughout the movement. (This one can be a brain teaser at first, so be sure to go slowly and focus on the opposite arm/leg movement!
Happy CORE work, Dancers!
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