There's a strong chance that when you read that title, you tightened your abs. That's because the majority of us associate "core" with "abs". Unfortunately, that's not the whole picture, and just focusing on abs leaves our body unbalanced, and without a strong anchor.
Think about the "core" as a house. In our house, the diaphragm is the roof, the pelvic floor is the foundation (or basement, in these parts), and the multifidi (back muscles) and abs are the walls. Imagine if one of these components was much heavier or overpowering of the other parts - the house wouldn't be sturdy. Same with our core. These muscles work together in a balanced way, as a team, to manage the pressures within our abdomen, which gives us stability to move. This stability happens through breathing.
When we inhale, the diaphragm lowers into the abdomen, gently pushing down on our organs, and in response, the pelvic floor and abs gently give or stretch. That stretch allows these muscles to recoil when we exhale, and contract and lift. That contract and lift gives us strength with lifting, squatting, handling the impact of running, etc.
So to get connected with our core we need to first get connected with our breath...
Lie on your back with your knees bent.
Place your hands on either side of your ribcage. As you inhale, feel your ribcage open up in all directions. Next, keep one hand on the ribcage and move the other to your belly. As you inhale, you should feel the ribcage open up and the belly gently rising. On the exhale, feel the ribcage gently closing like an umbrella.
Some ways this system goes haywire is...
Breath holding - if the ribcage and diaphragm don't move, the rest of the system is rigid
"Sucking in" instead of belly rising - means we're overdoing it with our abs
Chest breathing - instead of the ribcage opening outward, the chest rises up towards the ears, creating lots of tension in the neck.
Trying to build a strong core on top of a crazy breathing strategy means our core is missing out - or, trying to strengthen it actually makes things worse!
Give this a go, and check back for Part 2 for the next step in how to connect to your deep core.
Want to learn this in person? Schedule a consult, or attend a live workshop with me!
Jill Heath is a licensed physical therapist and owner of She PT, LLC. She received a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and B.S. in Exercise Science from Northern Arizona University. During years of practice helping individuals of all ages recover from a variety of conditions, she developed a passion for working with women. She opened She PT, LLC with the purpose of meeting not only the unique physical needs of women, but also empowering women to take charge of their well-being by making care accessible.