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The Deep Inner Unit: "light core"

Your deep inner unit consists of four muscle groups that should work subconsciously to stabilize your pelvis, spine and ribcage under low load postures and movements like standing, bending and walking.  Accidents, injuries and developed muscle imbalances can cause portions of the deep inner unit to not do their job properly; the result can be pain and/or compensation from other muscle groups to try and brace to hold everything together.  Some of your other stronger muscles can make up for the deep inner unit, but this usually leads to too much compression on the joints and immobility in the area.  You function best when your body can use the little muscles to do light stuff and the bigger muscles to do harder stuff.  You can get away with purely building strength in your outer sling muscles, but you will be prone to breaking down more often if the little guys aren’t firing.

The four muscle groups are your pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, multifidus and diaphragm.  They form the bottom, front, back and top of your abdominal and pelvic cavity.  Recruitment of these muscles is more about thinking than doing.  They provide gentle compression to stabilize so your bigger muscles can move you.  I don’t like to re-invent the wheel so the best resource to learn about recruitment of these muscles can be found on Diane Lee’s website here: Training the deep muscles of the core

Although becoming aware of these muscles and consciously training them can be very important, they are supposed to act subconsciously and if you align your body in the proper way they will likely fire on their own.  I find it is the compensation strategies people choose in their posture that are inhibiting these deep inner unit muscles and that helping a person unlearn bracing strategies helps to fire up the deep inner unit more than trying to focus on them alone.  Read More

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What is my core? Depends who you ask

The word core has been very popular for quite a while now in the health, fitness and rehab worlds, but there isn’t really a true agreement as to what it actually means; it really depends on who you talk to.  If you ask physiotherapists, most will focus on the deep, subtle, picky muscles like your transverse abdominus.  If you ask strength and conditioning coaches, most will strive to build bracing stability using the obliques.  If you ask a Pilates instructor, most will focus on breathing and dissociation of movement.  Finally if you ask a lay person, most will just pat their stomach and say ‘I know I need to work on my core,’ without really knowing why.

You can watch the associated video at the end of this article.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?  The answer is you should be able to selectively use your body for whatever task you ask it to do.  The picky little muscles should work subconsciously while you stand, sit, walk and breathe.  The bracing muscles should work when you pick up or push something heavy and you should be able to bend, twist and stretch if you choose.  The people that are wrong are the ones that think their method is the only and best thing for everyone.  Typically the personal trainers need to be introduced to the Pilates instructors and the Pilates instructors need to do some personal training.  Most people have a need to work on something, but it is a misconception that building more strength and stability is always the best option.

Some people are naturally strong and stiff as a board while others are loose jointed with low muscle tone.  The first and best thing you can do for yourself before you attempt to do more of anything physically is to learn about your body type and learn what type of exercise would give you the most benefit.  Read More

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