Let’s talk about ‘core’ work!
Do you know what your core is? Do you know how to activate it? The answers to these questions are important because they are the difference in getting an amazing workout, and getting what you think is an amazing workout when actually you’re just flailing around for 20 seconds.
So to ensure we aren’t guilty of the ladder, I want to explain what exactly the core is. The core is a large group of muscles that extend from your pelvic floor (think sphincter control), all the way up to C2 just below the base of your skull. The main muscles we are going to talk about are your abdominals, obliques, and erector muscles around the spine. However, the core also consists of muscles we don’t mention often. Use of the diaphragm and transverse abdominis (TA) are integral to a strong, stable core.
Breathing deeply and taking a deep breath are two very different things.
If you ever hear me say “breathe into your belly,” and if you’ve trained under me it’s likely, then I hope you know what I mean. In case you don’t, here it is. Taking a deep breath is good for your emotional and mental well being, but it may not be good for exercising. Most adults are chest breathers. I’m not ‘throwing shade’ as the kids say, I’m just making a generally factual statement. When I say breath into your belly, what I’m trying to get you to do is use your diaphragm. Engaging the diaphragm expands your rib cage to create more room for your lungs. This can be useful for recovery between rounds as more air can enter your lungs, and for support during exercises that require core stability (squats, etc.). I will do a post on proper intra-abdominal pressure during squatting sometime in the future, so… moving on.
Scoop your belly! Pull your belly button to your spine!
These cues are said to remind you to support your lumbar region for many exercises. Many people think that when they pull their belly button back, they are engaging their abs. If you’re one of those people, I assure you, you’re not. Sucking your belly button back toward your spine engages the transverse abdominis. But we want to do this completely. So before we begin the movement, we should prepare for it by making sure we are properly connected to the TA.
As you lie down, and keeping the natural curve in your spine, take a deep breath and fill your belly. Now imagine pulling your quads into your belly button from your knees down, and then your pull your lower ribs inward, all while giving a strong exhale (we should be able to hear you breathing out forcefully). You should not only feel your belly button drop, but you should also feel muscular activation in your sides. If you feel both of these, you have successfully engaged your TA, and you can begin doing real core work.
The first movement is a double-tuck using the bands for resistance. To start, lie down with your head 4 ft from the wall, holding the band with arms bent at 90* so your elbows are directly above your shoulders and your hands are over your forehead. Your legs should be up, knees bent at 90* and directly over your hips. THERE SHOULD BE TENSION ON THE BAND AT REST! If there is no tension, you need to scoot from the wall more. In this position, pulling your knees back and your hips off the floor is easy because your upper body is anchored. So we are going to do the hard thing and lift your top half, while we pull the knees back. In order to accomplish this, you will need to scoop the belly and strongly contract your abdominals and obliques. Drive your elbows to your hips, keeping your chin tucked. At the top of the movement your shoulder blades should be off the floor, and so should your hips. Keep the movement slow until you are sure you are getting those shoulders up. It’s easy to get going fast and lose out on the upper portion of the core.
The second movement is a banded bicycle. Lie down at the same distance from the wall. This time, tuck your elbows to your rib cage holding the band just below your chin. One knee up and bent at 90* with the other leg straight and off the floor. Your spine should rotate during the movement, it should not flex or extend. So brace your core by engaging the TA once more. If your left knee is up, rotate around your spine and drive your right elbow so that it gets as close to touching your left hip as you can. Then, lower the left knee while lifting the right and rotating back to the other side. Again, start slow so you can really FEEL your core working and so you know your spine isn’t changing position.
The last movement is big flutter kicks. Once again, lie down the same distance from the wall. Hold the band with your arms fully extended, hands directly above your shoulders. One leg will start straight up and one leg will be down. Both legs stay straight the ENTIRE TIME. Keeping your spine stable in the exercise is paramount, so make sure your core is braced through your TA. Keeping your arms extended straight up, lower the leg that’s up while lifting the leg that’s down. This should be the most difficult of the three exercises described here because it allows the least amount of mobility in your spine. Again, it should be rigid, unmoving.
That’s it! Just remember so engage your TA and slow down. Just because you’re going faster than everyone else, doesn’t mean you’re getting a good ‘burn.’ Keep your composure and focus on the quality of your movement, and make sure your spine moves how it’s supposed to, when it’s supposed to, and doesn’t move when it’s not supposed to.
P.S. Intent and Purpose!