Core Function and Why it Matters

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I first completed my advanced core function course over 3 years ago and recently decided to revisit it and do the whole course again. I have to say I’m so pleased I did! Some of the more complex aspects of the course make so much more sense now that I can use the in-person experience I’ve gained from working with clients with some quite complex issues. Most of the issues seemingly have nothing to do with the core upon first inspection but your core is far more important than you may ever have realised.

Core exercise with a pilates ball

Your core is essential in all movement patterns. It connects your upper and lower body and stabilises your spine. If your core is weak then it can affect function in your extremities (arms / legs / shoulders). Movement patterns emanate from the core out and no matter what you do…..whether you swing an arm or leg / walk / run etc… you need stability through your core. Your core should come first.

So how do you train your core? You may have an idea that doing 100 sit-ups a day is brilliant but actually it isn’t and it can be detrimental because all you’re doing is training dysfunction through your abs. Your core does so much more than flexion alone and so variety is key to training. Your most important core muscles are your Transverse Abdominis (TVA) closely followed by your obliques (sides of your core) followed by your rectus abdominis (your 6 pack muscles). Sit-ups primarily train your 6 pack and that’s just not helpful in the grand scheme of things. Over-training these muscles can result in dysfunction. You can have the best 6-pack in the world but still have a dysfunctional core.

I recently put out a post on my Instagram story about the abs cruncher with headrest:

I remember using these at the gym years ago and working on my ‘six-pack’ – having no idea that resting my head during a crunch was dysfunctional. Your neck flexors need to engage to support your head, which is heavy. By using this machine I was actually increasing the strength of my flexor abs relative to my neck flexors and therefore creating imbalance. There’s no such thing as isolated function, we need to train patterns of movement to build a fully functional core.

The question is how?

The above photo shows a one-arm dumbbell row. This may look easy but this causes back pain in a number of people because they don’t engage their core and / or have weak deep core strength. A stronger core makes exercises such as these far more productive.

So, we’re back to how to train your core. Whether you’re doing a full hour of exercise or 20 minutes then try to keep variety in there. Try to do different routines and don’t do lots of reps of one exercise because this leads to faulty training. Training your abs at the end of a routine is important and something I always do in the workouts on my app. If you train your abs at the beginning then they’ll be tired and won’t be able to properly stabilise your body for exercises such as the one shown above. When you get to your abs start with your TVA (deep core), find the engagement of your deep abdominal wall. I find the best exercise for this is on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Raise one leg to a table-top position then slowly lower your foot, keeping your knee at 90 degrees. If 90 degrees is too much then try a 45 degree angle to start with. Stop as soon as your back starts to lift (this may only mean lowering 2 or 3cm). Keep it in your abs. Build to 10 reps and then take your foot a little lower and build from there. If you’re unsure then you’ll find detailed guidance in the core workouts on my app.

Your obliques are also key so rotation training is important – try tucking a ball under your lower back as shown in the top photo and then keep both feet on the floor and slowly rotate your body from left to right. An alternative is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor and slowly lower your knees to one side and then the other but keeping both shoulders down at all times. I show all these in the work-outs on my app and how to train your abs efficiently and effectively. Slow is always better and always listen to your body! If you have back pain then rest. Pushing through back pain results in dysfunction and we know we don’t want that.

Building core strength takes time and back work is important too. Always keep your tongue to the roof of your mouth to engage your neck.

If you’re a golfer or play tennis / squash etc and suffering back / hip / knee pain then look to your core for strength. Your deep abdominals (TVA) are essential to stabilise and explosively rotate your trunk. Train patterns of movement, engage your deep abs and see how everything starts to come together.

Contact me via email if you need any guidance xx

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