Our core consists of three layers of abdominals, along with multiple layers of back muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and hip stabilizers. Our deepest muscle is the transverse abdomins (TVA). It is our main core muscle; it stabilizes the spine, supports the organs, assists with posture and allows the rest of our body to function effectively. Your core is used when you lift, reach, jump, carry, bend and do just about anything.
Crunches were invented in the 70’s in an attempt to strengthen the abdominal wall. Unfortunately, these movements and their repetition are not part of the body’s normal movement pattern. Our bodies were designed to be in an up-right position-standing, walking, and being active-with our core and back engaged and stable. In order to work the recti from the middle, we need to work the transverse muscle, but not through the traditional ab exercise. It is better to work the abs in a functional movement. The abs may not ache but they are working, then when strength is back you can move on to tummy safe exercises.
The Transverse abdominis (TVA) muscle wraps around your torso beginning along the sides of your spine, connecting to your lower six ribs and the pelvis all the way to your pubic bone, and then the connective tissue runs right down your midline. The TVA is a large corset muscle and it creates a co-contraction between all the other essential core muscles when it is activated. So, when we are working out in any way, it is essential to be sure your core is working with you and not against you.
For the TVA to be activated, the pelvis and rib cage need to be aligned. It is common in pregnancy and life to tuck your bums during certain exercises, or flare your ribs and arch your backs when straining to complete a task. In order for the TVA muscle to do its job of stabilizing and have the opportunity to build strength, the pelvis and rib cage need to be aligned.
We are designed to be standing upright for most of our life activities. Exercising in an up-right position translates into real-life function much more easily than exercises lying down, on hands and knees or bent over. But most importantly, the TVA is most easily activated when we are upright with the pelvis and rib cage aligned, when our core can be elongated. So, consider the exercise you are doing and choose an upright version of that exercise. For example, if you want to strengthen your triceps with weights, choose to do an upright overhead lift instead of triceps kick backs in a bent over position or triceps dips.
The “work of each exercise” is the point in the exercise where there is strain or extra effort, for instance during a push-up the effort would be the act of pushing off the ground. When the body is challenged in any way it is forced to find strategies to stabilize itself so we do not fall down or injure ourselves. The core is designed to draw in and elongate to create this stabilizing force. However, if the TVA muscle is weak and the body is not in optimal alignment we naturally compensate by bracing and bearing down in an attempt to stabilize the body. The TVA should naturally engage when we exhale. So, to ensure we are working our core, you need to slow down and try to exhale and engage on the work of each exercise. Co-ordinating the breath is key for the core in each and every exercise. An example my favourite exercise the squat, where we coordinate exhaling with the work, which is the upward motion back up to standing, and it is this which is exercised when we are using our core. This is a core exercise as we are utilizing our core and strengthening it?
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