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7 Ways to Flip Your Core Switch

MAC Fitness Team - Tuesday, August 07, 2018

By Chris O'Laughlin

Move Better and Prevent Pain with these 7 Core Practices

Muscles are similar to light bulbs. They can be turned on and turned off when you need them. Like a broken light bulb in a cluttered room, disengaged or deactivated muscles, are not helpful and may even cause accidents or injuries.

Now think about your own body. Is the light switch to your core on or off? In today’s blog, we learn how to recognize when and how to activate the core network, as well as explain why most people do not use core muscles to the fullest ability.

Core Misconceptions

The core is comprised of much more than just the “six-pack” visible muscles and has several important responsibilities. These include:
  1. Controlling the diaphragm during breathing. Not only does the core network expand and contract your diaphragm like a balloon, but core muscles also move the ribs to create space for these contractions.
  2. Creating rotation. The core network connects the shoulders to the hips, or upper body to lower body, which is the most important function for human biomechanics and movement.
  3. Creating stability. These muscles help maintain strength and balance throughout the day.
So, if the core is responsible for breathing and walking, then we can assume the core's light switch must always be “on," right? Wrong!

Core Compensations

The human body has amazing capabilities including multiple ways to compensate during movement in order to achieve its most important functions like breathing and locomotion. If you notice the chest lifting as you inhale, short or shallow breaths or an incomplete exhale, then these might be signs of compensation patterns due to a deactivated component of the core network.
Are you compensating for a disengaged core?
  1. If you put your hands on your ribs and inhale, do you feel your ribs expand sideways?
  2. When you walk, do your shoulders rotate with your hips in a figure eight-like pattern?

  3. When you look in the mirror, can you see your shoulders perfectly in-line with your hips?
If not, the light switch to your core is off and other muscles are working instead. Eventually, these poor movement patterns may cause unnecessary wear and tear on the body. Repeated wear and tear may cause discomforts such as an especially painful lower back and tight neck muscles.

How Do I Turn the Light Switch Back On?

The core network can be encouraged to activate with mindful practice each morning. If you can turn the light switch on through regular practice, then you are more likely to maintain better mechanics throughout the day - even when you aren’t thinking about it! For instance, when you are getting the kids dressed in the morning or walking to work, you might be thinking about the day's schedule, but the core network will be working better. If you wait until your afternoon workout to engage the core, you may have already spent most of the day compensating with other areas. The core network will naturally start to disconnect as a result of the three S's: Sitting, Slouching, and Sleeping. This is simply too many repetitions of poor patterns and stressors for the body to overcome!

Turn the light switch to the core on in the morning by practicing the core’s main functions explained in the following steps. Be mindful during these exercises for the best results (click on the links to view our video demos for proper technique!).
  • Sit comfortably on the floor with a yoga strap around the ribcage, just below the breast line.
    • Practice inhaling while trying to expand your diaphragm by pushing into the strap without the chest lifting.
    • Allow pressure to quickly release but don't force the exhale.
    • Perform three rounds of 30 breaths.
  • The intrinsic core muscles connect the upper body and lower body through diagonal muscle connections; these include the pelvic floor and TVA (transverse abdominis muscle).
    • Stand next to a mirror and pretend you are walking into a pool of extremely cold water.
    • Feel the lift and retraction in the lower core muscle area.
    • Try to hold this position as you look into the mirror and check for joint alignment, also known as stacking. Hold the muscle engagement while continuing to breathe for as long as you can comfortably, and then increase the duration over time.
  • Use the same technique of walking into cold water but increase the difficulty by adding a plank.
    • This builds stability.
  • Lie down on your back in a “dead bug” position and practice engaging your core muscles as you move opposite arm and leg away from the center of the body.
    • This cross-connection is vitally important to the efficiency of human movement as it allows us to run, walk, throw, and climb. We rarely engage this connection naturally through traditional strength training exercises, such as bench-pressing and squatting movements.

The core takeaway: Turn on your core "lights" as often as possible. This will help you move more efficiently, decrease joint-stressors, and prevent pain/injuries later in life!

Chris O'Laughlin, MAC Fitness Professional, specializes in functional training with an emphasis on proper body mechanics and effective movement. To learn more about Chris or get in touch click HERE.

The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program and any modifications to physical activity.