I know we get told nearly all the time about how important your core is for lifting and that we don’t need to do anything else apart from squat and deadlift to strengthen it but is this really true?
Well what if it isn’t strong in the first place? What If you actually don’t know how to breathe and use your core properly either? What happens then? It is certainly not going to get stronger correctly that way and will most likely in fact get weaker in the areas that you need to be strong and you won’t realise until you injure yourself. Belts can also mask these inefficiencies really well but I will get to that.
Our core is not just the superficial muscles that we see but is an intricate and fairly complex part of the human anatomy. We have multiple layers within our core that all work to assist with stabilising our lumbar spine and our pelvis during movement.
Let’s look firstly at the anatomy of our core; the anterior aspect of our midsection has 4 layers to it, starting with the deepest layer we have our transverse abdominis, then our rectus abdominis (6 pack muscle), then our internal and external obliques. Aside from these we also have a multitude of other muscles such as the psoas major and minor, iliacus, multifidus that all also work to stabilise the abdominal/lower back region.
The transverse abdominis wraps around the front and sides of your abdomen and inserts at the pubic crest and originates at the top of your iliac crest and the cartilage for the posterior ribs 7-12.
(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YYtcCrc7sY , December 12th 2017) (https://www.custompilatesandyoga.com/health/transverse-abdominis-learn-your-muscles/, December 12th 2017).
Looking at the image you can see how important this muscle being strong is to lifting being that it actually wraps around nearly your entire midsection and connects your ribcage to your pelvis. This muscle is able to contract forwards and sideways to create stability, imagine what would happen if this muscle was weak? The Transverse Abdominis also has some fairly intimate relationships with other muscles in your lower back that I won’t go into today.
After this you have your obliques (both internal and external), these bad boys are surprisingly important as well as they span pretty much the entire lateral aspect of your core, the internal obliques insert at the lower margins of the 9-12th rib and originate along the front of the pelvis, the external obliques insert at the pubic crest and originate from the 5-12th ribs.
(source: https://brentbrookbush.com/articles/anatomy-articles/muscular-anatomy/internal-obliques/, December 12th 2017)
Among other things one of their jobs while squatting and deadlifting is to help resist rotation and assisting with compression in the core. Remember rotating through the lumbar spine excessively is a big no no for this region as it isn’t designed to do that like the thoracic spine is, and compression is what we are looking for when bracing our core.
But I can squat and deadlift heaps of weight you say so my core must be super strong right? Well no, not always. Especially if you have also gotten used to squatting and deadlifting with a belt, yes a belt can help with awareness of what your core is doing but how do you use it? Do you just breathe into it and hope for the best or do you actively brace sideways?
Unilateral work is one good way of seeing where your balance and core strength is up to as well as exercises like side lying hip raises, pallof press and banded deadbugs. The core should be trained from a variety of different approaches not just exercises like planks, remember our body is three dimensional and your core training needs to resemble that.
A strong core is a really, really important part of strength training and an area that is often very swiftly overlooked and palmed off.