Whenever I hear this term I always ask, the core of what? The core of an apple? A B-grade science fiction disaster film from 2003, a stoner rock band from New Jersey founded in the 1990s, or an obscure Jazz quartet from Norway?
To come back to a serious note, the ‘core’ of the body has never been completely defined by the more science-inclined people out there. While we tend to include the muscles making up the ‘abdominals’, ie: the muscles around the abdomen; this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the only muscles that can be considered as part of the core. When you sneeze, cough, brace or barf, it’s not just your abdominal muscles that are working. Think about it. Your back will begin to arch, your head may lift up, your arms might stiffen along with the muscles on your ‘derriere’ (we’ll call them your gluteals), and then somewhere inside of you, you’ll notice a tightening sensation around just below your rib cage. But were they the only muscles that got you into that position? NO!
Same as what we can say about what ‘specific muscles’ must be ‘targeted’ with exercises that our Pilates Instructor or someone at the gym told us to do. The position and posture of our back can be changed by flexing the spine with muscles that attach our pelvis to the front of our rib cage among others (such as the rectus abdominis, the obliques and the transverse abdominis – the mystical TA muscle!).
It could also be moved by the muscles that connect our rib cage to the back of our hips when we arch backwards like the Erector Spinae muscle group (which is a whole bundle of muscles running down our backs). We could also change our posture by keeping our spine rigid and using our gluteal muscles to lean backwards to try the limbo, or even slowly lower yourself forward towards parallel with the floor!
We haven’t even addressed the muscles that originate from above your rib cage! The latissimus dorsi (commonly referred to as the ‘lats’) run from underneath your arm pits all the way down to the fascia (more on this later) that connects the middle and lower parts of the spine, and the sacrum and coccyx (your ‘tail bone’). You have two of these massive muscles and they not only have a part to play in spinal movement, but also control function around the shoulders, hips and can even influence the amount of movement you can perform in your neck all the way down to your legs!
Pretty complicated huh?
See, the term ‘core’ is not a very clear explanation of what muscles we want to move or train, to change the way our back feels. Our bodies are best defined as ‘advanced three dimensional movement systems’, where a variety of muscular segments work cohesively to control the movement of the spine through space.
We want to train the movements, rather than the muscles. Don’t read this and think that certain muscles don’t need to be strengthened, or don’t operate together to help the body as a whole, but realise that we are not just a collection of muscles and joints. Everything moves together to create meaningful movement!
The key to a healthy back is to gradually increase the scope of movements that we conduct on a regular basis, progressing from small to large movements, in short stints throughout the day. Essentially we want to move more, with greater efficiency, in a variety of different ways.
Think of it like this. If we were not designed to flex or bend the spine, then the spine would be completely straight. Now in saying that, the spine does have certain positions that make it easier to complete some movements, but that is another story for another day. Remember, motion is lotion, and a little bit of movement is better than none. Something is better than nothing and nothing is worse than something!