The Core – Our Built-in Support System

What is a support system? Usually, the role of support systems is to make our lives more efficient and smooth, provide relief when we feel overworked, and protect us when things go wrong. Your support system may include friends and family, professional mentors and colleagues, physical and mental health professionals, or your cultural and spiritual community. But did you know your body has its very own support system that is an essential part of your overall health and wellbeing? 

The muscles of your abdomen, sides, pelvic floor, and back, commonly referred to as your core, are responsible for holding your torso upright, maintaining your posture, protecting your internal organs and ensuring they function properly, and stabilizing your entire body to help prevent injury. Keep reading to find out how your core can support you through your workouts and your everyday life, and what you can do to support it back!

How the Core Supports the Body

Your core consists of both “stabilizer” muscles that help you stay upright and resist external forces (such as a heavy load on your back or a bump that knocks you off balance) as well as “mover” muscles that allow your spine and torso to bend and twist in all directions. Proper activation of both the stabilizer and mover muscles allows us to stay upright and transfer force across the body, making our movements in the gym and in everyday life more efficient and powerful. 

When we have an imbalanced or weak core, many issues can arise that negatively impact our overall health and wellbeing. Poor activation of the core is common in people who sit at desks all day, and can cause lower back pain and poor posture, which further exacerbates pain in the back and neck. 

The pelvic floor, which helps provide stability and bracing to the core and plays a role in controlling organs like the bladder and rectum, is another area that commonly weakens with age in all genders- especially if you’ve been pregnant. This weakening can also affect posture, especially while resistance training, and can lead to incontinence and sexual dysfunction.

 A lack of core stability can also increase your risk of falls, and make it more difficult to brace yourself while running, working out, or doing everyday activities, potentially leading to further injuries. 

How You Can Support Your Core

In order to maximize the support our core can provide us, it’s important to strengthen all areas of the core, and not just the “six-pack” rectus abdominis muscles that may first come to mind. Think of your core like a barrel that surrounds your organs- including the diaphragm on top, pelvic floor on the bottom, rectus abdominis in the front, obliques and transverse abdominis on the sides, and erector spinae and multifidus in the back. Ensuring you choose movements that strengthen all of these muscles will allow you to build a well-rounded and functional core and maximize your power and stability. 

Since sitting at desks for long periods of time can fatigue and weaken the core, try to take quick movement breaks throughout the day. When performing any exercises or movements requiring the core, think of bracing yourself from all sides of the core: Tuck your ribs down towards your pelvis and feel your belly button pull slightly in towards the spine. Keep your spine neutral and the muscles of your back that surround it taut and engaged. Pull your shoulders down, back, and away from your ears as you engage your back. Gently activate your glutes. To engage and strengthen the pelvic floor, squeeze your deep pelvic muscles as if you’re holding in your pee (also known as a “kegel” exercise, these are very useful for all genders and can be done pretty much anytime/anywhere!).

It’s easiest to practice activating your core by lying on your back with your knees raised at a 90 degree angle. As you exhale, begin to engage your core. Start with activating the pelvic floor, and from there, activate the rest of your deep core muscles. You should feel your neutral spine pushing slightly into the floor, and be able to resist and control the lowering of your legs. Once you’re able to engage your core here, try doing it during the rest of your workout and in your everyday life- you’ll soon find it getting stronger and feel an increased stability and efficiency in your movements! You can also further strengthen your core with specific exercises and workouts- just make sure you perform a variety of movements that target all parts of the core muscles to avoid creating an imbalance.