The core has been a buzz word in fitness, yoga and pilates, dance and therapy practices for quite some time now and pretty much everyone has heard of it. However, quite often, even though we are vaguely aware of it, we’re not absolutely sure what it means, or where it is.
A lot of people assume the core is simply the abdominal muscles and might know it can help with improving sore lower back pain, but other than that don’t see why it might be important.
As it happens, there is no one size fits all definition of the core and what it means – helpful right? Upon investigation, it turns out there are lots of different definitions, both from the medical, fitness and yogic worlds. Luckily the one thing they all share in common is the distinct impression that the core is something to do with a location in the body as well as being functional.
The dictionary definition is simply the central or foundation part, distinct from its surrounding parts by a difference in its nature, but that’s not really specific enough when looking in relation to our bodies.
Even fitness definitions aren’t entirely corresponding, adding further to the confusion. Some experts consider the core to simply be ‘everything that’s not the limbs and head’. Again pretty non-specific!
Science and medical research have explained the core to be:
“…foundation of the kinetic chain responsible for facilitating the transfer of torque and momentum between the lower and upper extremities for gross motor tasks of daily living, exercise, and sport.”(Huxel Bliven and Anderson, 2013)
Or even like this:
“The core is a 3-dimensional space with muscular boundaries: diaphragm (superior), abdominal and oblique muscles (anterior-lateral), paraspinal and gluteal muscles (posterior), and pelvic floor and hip girdle (inferior).” (Huxel Bliven and Anderson, 2013)
Looking back into history, we can take the core from the acknowledged specialists in movement and body mechanics, namely Joseph Pilates (the founder of Pilates), Sri T. Krishnamacharya (largely regarded as the ‘father of modern yoga’) and Ida Rolf (a biochemist and creator of structural integration, also known as ‘Rolfing’). These influencers all lived around the same time and all shared a common exploration of movement in the human body.
They all believed that fundamentally there are muscles in the central part of the body that once strong, meant the practitioner was able to move in a way that seemed light, controlled and agile. These deep internal muscles not only had the ability to transform the person physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
Specifically for yoga, the idea that the core muscles are a part of the Bandhas (locks) is a long lived one. Yogis understand that the control of prana (energy) begins and is affected by the use of the breath (pranayama) and of the bandhas. The Mula Bandha (root lock) is found when drawing the perineum upwards, closing the anus. The pelvic floor becomes firm in this subtle but effective attention to space in the body. For uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) you would draw the navel towards the spine, so as to press the bones of the spine with the abdomen.
Although this ancient art form of yoga wasn’t specific in naming the muscles, it’s clear that even back in it’s origins, the pelvis and surrounding myofascial need to be active to control the root of movement in the physical body as well as controlling the energetic body.
Beyond yoga, we can establish the (fairly long!) list of muscles, tissues, and structures included in the core and where in the body they are found):
- Transverse abdominis (T.V.A underneath the rectus outer abdominal muscles)
- Internal and external obliques (muscles on either side of the waist)
- Serratus anterior (under the armpits on the upper outer ribcage)
- Perineal muscles, levator ani and coccygeus muscles (found in the pelvic floor)
- Latissimus dorsi (large flat muscles on the middle lower back)
- Lower trapezius (back of the shoulders)
- The four rotator cuff muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis (shoulders)
- The three gluteal muscles: gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus (the muscles of the buttocks)
- Multifidus (long thin muscles either side of the lower spine)
- Pectineus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, gracilis, and adductor magnus (adductor muscles on the inner thighs)
- Psoas major (long muscles on either side of the body originating from the lower spine, winding through the pelvis and attaching to the upper thigh bone)
- Iliacus (inside the peak of the hips)
- Erector spinae (long narrow muscles running down the sides of the spine and back ribs)
- Quadratus lumborum (either side of the lower lumbar spine)
A strong and flexible spine, supported by the muscles in the core of the body is absolutely necessary for flowing, fluid easy movement.
A key point to remember is that although strength is key and building strength from the inside out is a wonderful way to stabilise your body, it’s not the be all and end all. Ultimately if you build up too much strength in one area you can actually stop being able to move efficiently. Body builders might well be incredibly strong but can they forward fold?! It seems that our requirements in the physical self are much like that of the mental and emotional self. We wish to be strong in times of difficulty, but we also like to be flexible and able to adapt to new situations… The same can be applied to our core – moving in a way which can be controlled without being rigid and strong but not unyielding. Like life, we aim for balance in our body; strength and flexibility.
We offer several faster paced yoga and pilates classes every week at the Mary Ann Weeks Aveda wellness studio such as our Intermediate flow class on Friday mornings with Melanie, Flow yoga on Saturdays at 10.15 with Nina or Cristina or our Yoga Blend class on Tuesday mornings with Cristina. Our patient, knowledgeable and expert yoga and pilates instructors are able to take you through movements that can be modified especially to your own ability, with the aim of providing you with a practice that serves your needs. With our semi-private classes of a maximum of 6 people, we know our students are extremely happy with the additional attention. Why not try a class from our timetable and see if we’re a good fit for you? Our studio prices are extremely reasonable from just £10 per class upwards.