The Power of the Inner Core
Back, hip, and knee pain are so common in this day and age because many of us have major weakness in our inner core muscles. We spend so much of our time sitting that many of us have lost the ability to properly stabilize our spine and hips. The inner core is made up of 4 components; the multifidi muscles, diaphragm, pelvic floor and transverse abdominis (TA). The multifidi attach on your lumbar spine to help keep your back erect, the diaphragm is the main muscle used for breathing, and the pelvic floor is important for keeping many of your organs in your abdominal space. The TA muscle is the one I will be focusing on, since almost everyone has trouble getting them to contract properly. It is the deepest of your abdominal muscles, therefore making it the most important in stabilizing the hips and spine making it a key factor in protecting you from external forces. The TA muscles do this by helping you brace yourself for impact.
Many people know they need to have a strong core to keep up with daily activities, making most people focus on exercises such as planks, bird dogs, and sit ups, to name a few. These types of exercises are useful to help strengthen your outer core muscles. The difference is that the outer core, or as I like to call them your “6-pack” muscles, are used to help you perform simple or complex movements or exercises, such as lifting yourself up, rotating to the side, or bending from side to side; movements that are all very important in daily activities. The inner core is very crucial in performing these exercises properly, providing stability to the spine and pelvis to prevent you from injury. This being said, one of my main focus’ in rehabilitation is strengthening the inner and progressing to the outer core.
To get your inner core to activate lie on your back with your knees bent. With two fingers, find your hips bones, slide your fingers in about an inch and cough gently. With the cough, you should feel a small muscle bulging into your fingertips. That is your TA muscle! Finding it is easy, but getting it to activate (contract) is a different story. Here are a few tricks to help you contract your TAs:
- Pretend you are walking into freezing cold water
- Pretend you are putting on a really tight pair of jeans
- For women only – try holding in your pee
- Pretend there is a string running through your belly button and I’m pulling it towards the floor
- Rock your pelvis backwards
Once you are able to find this contraction, hold it for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 more times. It is generally a slow progression to more complicated exercises, however, one that is definitely worth it in the end! Here is the exercise progression I recommend:
- Sliding your heel down, one at a time and alternating each side
- Marching – with knees bent lifting one leg off the table about 2 inches, alternating each side
- Single leg raise with legs straight, alternating each side
- Dead bugs – lying on your back with arms held out and legs up and bent at 90 degrees, bring one arm back and straighten opposite leg
- Bird dogs – kneeling in table top position, lift one arm up and kick opposite leg back
In order to progress from one exercise to the other, you need to ensure that your hips are stable during the exercise. You can do this by keeping your hands on your hips bones during the easier exercises, or by having someone spot you to make sure you are performing the exercise correctly. So get moving and get that core nice and strong!
Want to learn more about how to strengthen your core muscles, or other problem areas? Book an appointment with Phoebe to get a personalized program!