The term "core" is used quite often in exercise gyms, Pilates and chiropractic. But do any of you really know what the core is? Before I studied chiropractic and personal fitness training I had no idea what the elusive word meant or why I should even bother. So here it is...THE CORE!
Imagine the core is a box with a top, bottom, front and back and the box fits between your ribs and pelvis. The back of the core is the spine and spinal muscles. The top of the core is the diaphragm. The front of the core is the transverse abdominal (TA) muscle and the bottom of the core is the pelvic floor.
To tighten your core you shrink down the box. First, engage the TA muscle by imagining a diamond shape from your belly button, to hip bones, to pubic bones. Relax as you inhale and as you exhale bring this diamond shape area toward your spine. This is also known as hollowing out your stomach or bringing your belly button toward your spine. When engaging or firing the TA muscle you are simultaneously using deep stabilizing muscles in your back.
Again, relax as you inhale, then as you exhale sink your sternum and bring your lower ribs together, while still maintaining proper posture. This is the top of the core. Next pull up on your pelvic floor. This is the same as doing Kegal exercises and the opposite of bearing down. To pull up on the pelvic floor, or bottom of the core, imagine you are stopping the flow of urine. The muscles you use to stop the flow of urine are the pelvic floor muscles. Men as well as women have these muscles.
But why even bother with the core? Why take the time to learn how to do this? Using the core protects your back. Imagine you are picking up a heavy box. If the core is not engaged you are using the spine and spinal muscles to lift it. This can cause injury to the ligaments, discs, muscles and nerves of the back. If the core is engaged, stress is alleviated from your spine and instead moves to the pelvis, which is more equipped to handle heavy loads without injury.
Interestingly, the torso is considered a heavy load. Repeated bending at the waist throughout life without the engagement of the core can cause repetitive micro-damage to the spine and attachments. Hence the person who "throws their back out" while picking a pencil up off the ground.
The core is also where your power and balance come from. As your core gets stronger you can actually handle lifting more weight and still maintain good form. When rehabilitating people from injuries I often have them do balance work. This stimulates the nerves within the joints and builds a better connection to the brain. But if balance is difficult, it is ultimately the responsibility of the core. If the core is relaxed balance will waver, with the core tightened balance improves greatly.