In a Chiropractic and Physical Therapy office setting we see the effect of faulty core engagement and bad movement patterns every day. The most interesting of these cases involve high level athletes which by all metrics, are incredibly fit! These amazing athletes have mastered some of the hardest movements that exercise crazies have put out there, but when we test their core stability, they start showing cracks. This is when questions like, “Why does my back keep hurting, why do my knees ache, why can’t I squat 600 lbs (other than the fact that you look like a string bean?)” start showing up.
The answer in so many cases is, you have great abs, but no core! The core is much more like a cube than a tube, or just abs; imagine playing dice, your torso is divided into 6 sides, your abs only being 1 of those. The circular portion of the core is made up of your oblique on 2 sides, lumbar spine stabilizers in the back, and the all-important “Show me muscle” abs up front. About this time, you’re thinking, “wait, didn’t he say 6 sides?). Yes, I did, let’s talk about 2 of the most forgotten areas of the core that can make the biggest difference in your stability, and by extension ability to train effectively reducing injury.
I’d like to introduce the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. Your diaphragm is so much more than just a breathing apparatus, when a heavy load is lifted it creates the top of the ball we talked about before. The lower portion is vital to the health and stabilization of the pelvis, the pelvic floor is usually only talked about at the OB’s, but open your ears guys (These have been linked to bladder control and sexual performance too)! What happens when you have 5 strong sides of muscle and the bottom is weak? Can you imagine a tube of toothpaste? Yuck, not really something any of us want to see in the gym!
So, let’s get to fixing that leaky tube of toothpaste! As this article is written toward a generally fit athlete, some of these may not be appropriate for someone at a lower level of conditioning. I’d recommend finding a great Chiropractor or PT to help you get to the level of being able to handle these exercises, and as always if you have pain in these movements please seek the help of a qualified healthcare provider.
Starting off, the most basic of these exercises is the Kegel, I’d post a picture but you might not like what you see! Kegel’s are a great way to engage the pelvic floor and strengthen the bottom of the core.
The Side Lying Leg Raise has been a long time favorite of PT’s and Chiropractors for a reason, it works!
If you can’t tell already stabilizing the pelvis is a huge part of building a bullet proof core, the next exercise is no different.
For the Standing Heel Touch, you’ll need a step about 6-9 inches tall; I use some old undergrad textbooks that I found soooo useful the first time!
Now the dreaded word everyone has been waiting to hear, PLANKS. Planks have been stuck in core strengthening lore for decades, but they’ve stayed there for good reason! By getting into a plank position and holding your abs, obliques, low back, and pelvic floor tight it gets a true whole body workout. This is also a great way to train your diaphragm while exercising due to the fact you must stay braced and breathe at the same time, too often I see people who can brace, or they can breathe, but can’t come close to doing both. And what happens when you work out and don’t breathe? That’s right, you pass out or let your core go and hurt yourself.
The next group of exercises utilizes weight in the form of a Kettlebell, NO it’s not a kettleBALL, stop saying that, people are laughing… Each of these motions are great at fully engaging all sides of the core. For some instructional help I reached out to one of the best coaches for kettlebell and strength movements I’ve ever met. Jason Marshall is a Master SFG instructor with StrongFirst and Lone Star Kettlebell; he is an expert in weighted movements and not a shabby athlete himself with a 450+ pound squat and 600+ pound deadlift, this guy knows how to move weight. But, moving big weight is only good if you are stable doing it!
First, we will be starting with a Goblet Squat, this motion is building the foundation for a solid weighted squat as you must stabilize weight in front of the body and not spill your cup!
Another great way to train pelvic and core stability is using Asymmetrical Load Carries, these are also known as a farmers carry. The setup is very important and sets the tone for the lift as you will have uneven weight distribution:
It is vitally important that you don’t walk like a weary mom carrying a toddler, pushing that hip out and carrying at an angle will do nothing but cause you pain!
The last and most complete movement is the Get Up, it is crucial for spinal and pelvic stability, and is amazing at helping with shoulder and upper body stability as well.
Ryan Doss DC
Endurance Chiropractic and Sports Therapy in Lubbock, TX