As an osteopath, I talk about core strength a lot. However, having core strength does not mean you must have wash-board abs or a rippling six pack. These are shaped by your rectus abdominus muscle which only makes up one of your many core muscles.
Your core muscles actually start from deep within – the muscles surrounding the spine as well as the diaphragm and pelvic floor. These deeper muscles are the ones that engage first whenever you move or breathe. They have been cleverly designed with a unique overlapping arrangement of fibres going in different directions to help stabilise the abdominal region - the effect being, we all have a muscular ‘belt’ wrapped around the entire abdomen and back. This clever design not only helps protect the lower abdominal organs but also the spine by controlling and limiting excessive movement – this is especially important when bending or lifting.
So when it comes to improving core strength, it’s actually a lot simpler than you might think. How many times have you been told ‘sit up straight’ or ‘stop slouching’? Another function your core muscles have is to hold you upright. When we slump or slouch, our core muscles cannot do their job properly. By simply sitting or standing correctly, we automatically start strengthening the core. Do you find that sitting up straight makes your back ache after a while? That’s because by sitting upright, you’ve switched your core muscles on properly. If practiced for long enough, you’ll notice it becomes more comfortable and you may even find your back starts to ache more when you don’t sit properly.
Another important aspect of core strength is breathing. Many of us, particularly those with poor posture will often have poor breathing technique too. It’s called ‘upper rib breathing’ or ‘shoulder breathing’. Rather than using the whole rib cage, only the upper part of the rib cage is used to let air in and out of the lungs. When this happens, the diaphragm is unable to do its job effectively and so our core strength weakens. A strong core leads to a strong back which helps to protect you against low back pain - the most common symptom I treat as an osteopath.
A little exercise to try:
Find some quiet time where you can sit undisturbed for a few minutes.
When you’re ready, draw yourself up into an upright position and relax. You may wish to close your eyes if this helps.
Whilst maintaining yourself in that upright position, take a deep inhalation. You should feel your whole rib cage expand.
Hold the inhalation for a second or two and then slowly let the breath out in a deep exhalation and feel your rib cage shrink back down again.
Repeat this inhalation and exhalation for one minute and when you’re finished, see how that makes you feel.
Not only have you calmed the mind for one minute but you’ve also trained your core for one minute.
Try to practice this every day.