6 pack

Your ‘core’ is comprised of a number of muscles working together to achieve and maintain a stable spine. A strong core and perhaps more importantly, a core with good endurance allow us to move with ease and mechanical advantage; in order to avoid injury!

Your core muscles include: rectus abdominis, internal and external oblique, transversus abdominis, but also – you may be surprised to learn – the quadratus lumborum, and the gluteal muscles.

Your goal when working on your core is to create spinal stability. Stability may be achieved by increasing core strength, but Dr Stuart Mcgill (Professor of Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo) reminds us that improving core endurance may be more important than strength. Endurance provides the ability to maintain a stable spine throughout a variety of activities.


Many therapy approaches have the objectives of strengthening muscle and increasing spine range of motion. This is problematic (Parks et al, 2003) since those who have more motion in their backs have a greater risk of having future back troubles. Strength may, or may not, help a particular individual as strength without control and endurance to repeatedly execute perfect form increases risk. Dr Stuart McGill


McGill goes on to explain that people with ‘troubled backs’ tend to have faulty movement patterns like “gluteal amnesia” and more motion in their backs and less motion in their hips.

With the goal of stability in mind, it would be prudent to strengthen gluteal muscles, increase range of motion in our hips and choose abdominal exercises that do not put unnecessary stress and strain through the low back and discs.

No sit-ups or crunches

It is for this reason, that I will NEVER recommend crunches or sit-ups. Both of these exercises involve repetitive flexion of the lower back (lumbar spine). Repetitive flexion can lead to degeneration of the spinal joints and discs over time.

Effective spinal stabilization should begin with a solid understanding of what stability is. “Stability has little to do with the ability to balance on a gym ball. Sitting on an exercise ball performing movement exercises is generally a poor choice of back exercise until quite late in a therapeutic progression,” says Mcgill. “True spine stability is achieved with a “balanced” stiffening from the entire core musculature.”

Reducing risk of injury

One of the most effective exercises for improving spinal stability is the abdominal brace. Many personal trainers are still teaching the wrong position for core exercises – a position that will wear out your discs, cause premature aging and ruin your posture and balance long-term.

How to Engage Your Core

The abdominal brace is a super little exercise, that teaches you how to engage your core whether you are standing in a line, talking on the phone or simply walking down the street!

November 7, 2018 4 comments

4 Comments, RSS

  • Val

    says on:
    November 7, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    20 sucks and then 20 tensions out? Or alternating suck in/tense-out?

    • Posture Doctor

      says on:
      November 7, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Val,

      Not quite. Let’s see if I can be a little more clear for you.

      You don’t suck in at all. That is hollowing the stomach and isn’t what you want. I just demonstrated that to show you what to avoid.

      What you want it to create tension in the core. Quick tension. So you tense – relax – tense – relax – tense relax – twenty times.

      Hope that helps and thanks for watching!

      Paula

  • Anna

    says on:
    November 14, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Hi Paula, thanks for that. I had lower disc damage a couple of years ago and discovered, as you have described, how to engage my core effectively, and easily with your simple exercise. I think prior to this I had muscle ‘amnesia’, with my core and my glutes. The latter I’ve noticed have now bulked up more, they are engaged now whereas before they were MIA!
    I learnt that there’s a ‘chain’ of muscles* that you can progressively activate simply and easily. It extends from your big toes, up the legs, inner thighs, pelvic floor and core. Easy to do: simply stand feet hip-width apart, ‘plant’ both your big toes solidly to the ground and feel the activation up your legs, lift your pelvic floor and engage the core with the tension you described. You can do this anywhere, standing in a queue, in the shower. And for women you get the bonus of pelvic floor activation. I find now when I do this action, that my head also wants to ‘uncurl’ from its habitual forward position, I want to stand taller! So all up it ticks all the boxes.
    Also I now feel that now my core is much stronger (and my back problems have gone) is that my core is ‘on’ (engaged) a little even when I’m sitting down, which is how it should be.
    (*I can’t recall what the official term for this muscle chain is called but I’m sure a physio would be able to tell you). thanks, Anna

    • Posture Doctor

      says on:
      November 15, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      Hi Anna,

      Excellent! Thank you for sharing that exercise. I like it.

      I don’t think there is an ‘official’ name for the muscles from feet to pelvis – none at least that I learned in university but I’m thinking it may be the ‘lower limb kinematic chain’. Kinematic chains are used to describe the relationships between body segments and joints during movement. When one is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighboring joints and segments.

      Thanks so much for sharing. I’m trying it now 🙂

      Paula

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