Many people have these days heard about core stability being good for us. You might have heard this especially frequently if you come to movement classes, such as Pilates. But why is this really the case, and what is this core stability thing anyway?
I think that's a really important question to understand well, and I will aim to explain this without much technical jargon!
Evolution has lead us to become bi-peds, which means we walk on two feet. We have had to deal with the effects of gravity on our spine much more than any of our four-legged relatives. This means we have to do shock absorption really well - as we walk, skip, jump around, we don't want our spine to feel the impact every time. Especially since we live longer lives than other quadripeds.
We have those little shock absorption discs in our spine but they are not really enough for our life long activity level. Something a bit cleverer is needed on top to keep this system in good shape and give it beneficial tension.
By beneficial tension I mean tension to create stability - like a bridge with all those suspension cables for a reason. It looks beautiful - but moveover, there are tons of clever engineering calculations behind it all. It is not tension like we tend to think of it in daily life - as in, excess stiffness in a muscle or joint!
Think of our spine as a shock absorbing spring. It's exactly what is it - we have spinal curves for that very reason. Concave ones (dipping in) in the lower back and neck, and convex ones (rounded outwards) in the upper back and around the tailbone.
However we are not born with these curves. We only have rounded curves at birth as we would have been curved up like a ball in the womb. We develop the concave (dipping-in) curves as we start growing after we are born.
How do we do that? Through seemingly random baby movements - but oh no, they are not random!
A baby goes through a targered self-exercise movement programme intuitively imposed by its instincts to get stronger and explore further. Lying on its back, breathing optimally as babies do, without restriction, and lifting its legs, reaching its arms, over and over again. It is exercising its core, and through breathing generating this amazing thing called Intra-abdominal pressure, literally inhaling and creating pressure inside the abdominal area, and then using this pressure to power up its movements.
Put as simply as possibly, inhaling increases good, beneficial tension inside the abdomen, which transfers through our tissues into the lower back and creates good, beneficial tension in deep muscles around the lower back and pelvis. This creates and maintains the lower back curve (your shock absorber) and creates a stable pelvis. BOOM!
It is "good tension for protection". Not tension you will feel as stiffness.
(Can I just say that good breathing is not breathing into the abdomen! Good breathing is using the ribcage and diaphragm well, but there is still tension generated into the abdominal cavity through this process. There is an optimal balance to be struck!)
Like a well built bridge, when our pelvis is stable, all sorts of things can happen with ease - not only will it not fall over, but you can get extra weight of cars and trucks passing over the bridge, you might even build some structures if you really want to, and the bridge still won't tilt or sag.
And we are stable in our centre of mass which is around our L5 spinal vertebrae.
So core stability is essentially this:
- It is our ability to stabilise ourselves around the lumbar spine and pelvis through breathing, generating and maintaining beneficial tension;
- maintaining our lumbar spine curve for best shock absorption and sufficient beneficial spinal "tension for protection" at a deep level; and
- allowing the power generated through this good tension to be passed down into our legs and up into our arms.
It helps us move with ease and makes the job of large leg and arm muscles easier, as they get extra force input
That is why great breathing is so very important. And that is why core stability is really key.
To your health, Kaye