Busting the core myths … again!
Over the last decade we have been inundated with different methods of "Strengthening the Core". Not long after a new idea has been presented will someone else describe it as ineffective, with the attacks often presented under headings like “busting the myths about core training”. The myths that have been busted so far are:
- Abdominal hollowing has been replaced by abdominal bracing
- Abdominal training has gone from exercises like crunches towards tightening the abdominals resisting rotational, side bending and extension forces.
- People are recommended to belly breathe instead of breathing in with the chest.
Some new core strengthening methods have emerged which include:
- Making sure to use the diaphragm when breathing.
- Core strengthening has to be directional so resisting deviation of the trunk from many different angles by activating the abdominals is recommended.
- Plank, "dead-bug" and "bird-dog" exercises have been presented as effective options for strengthening the core.
- The hard-core weight lifters claim that heavy squats and deadlifts are all we need to strengthen the core.
Busting the present Core myths
First of all the core has to be properly activated to be trained. No activation means that no training is possible, which of course only leads to minute improvement in strength of stabilization. Without proper activation most core training has only a very limited effect. I am not going to say that it is a waste of time, because even strengthening the outer layer of the core will have some positive effect on spinal stabilization. The core has to be activated from the inside out to be fully functional. The diaphragm is the key to proper core activation. Proper function allows the diaphragm to combine its respiratory task along with the postural contribution. A well generated intra-abdominal pressure protects the spine.
Applying the diaphragm concept to the core strengthening methods mentioned above some are going to get "busted" while others will only be altered and improved.
- Abdominal bracing is activating the core from the outside in and will not stabilize the lower lumbar spine as effectively.
- Resisting rotation, side bending and extension forces are good core exercises providing the core is properly activated from the inside out. Add the power of the diaphragm to these exercises and be amazed how much easier they suddenly become.
- The diaphragm is used in all breathing patterns even the dysfunctional ones. Belly breathing is not proper diaphragm breathing. Chest and belly breathing are both dysfunctional breathing patterns.
- Training the core by resisting deviation against loads from different angles is a good method of strengthening the core provided the core is first properly activated.
- Plank exercises, "dead-bugs" and "bird-dog" are good core exercises provided the core has been properly activated. The stabilization should be achieved from the inside out and not by tensing the abdominal wall only. It is always important to stabilize the entire spine and the shoulder-blades in these exercises.
- Dead-lifts and squats are excellent core exercises provided the core is properly activated through proper diaphragm function. Breathing in and pushing the diaphragm downwards increases the intra-abdominal pressure and stabilizes the spine. All components of the core including the diaphragm, pelvic floor, the entire abdominal wall and the lumbar extensor muscles are strengthened when properly activated during heavy lifting.