Does having a visible ‘6-pack’ mean you have a strong core? Not necessarily.
The abdominal muscles or the core muscles are made up of a number of muscles which include rectus abdominis (6-pack), external and internal obliques (love handles), multifidis, pelvic floor and transversus abdominis. Most people when working the ‘core’ focus on the visible i.e. the rectus abdominis. Consequently they perform exercises that increase the musculature but often don’t have an understanding of how to strengthen the deeper core in particular transversus abdominis(TA). Having a strong TA and deeper core is the pinnacle of good core strength and core control.
Having good core control has an affect on day to day activities that require good posture (eg computer typing, cleaning & driving) as well as other functional daily activities such as climbing stairs, getting up and down off a bed and gardening. A strong TA enables daily tasks to be performed with minimal risk of new injuries as well as avoiding recurring injuries. Activation of the TA should become second nature and should be applied during most functional activities performed on a daily basis. Having a strong TA also assists with good lifting techniques in the gym when utilizing weights as well as performing abdominal exercises. It also assists with maintaining good balance and stability particularly as we go through the aging process.
When the deeper core is engaged i.e. contracted, the various muscles involved (TA, multifidis, pelvic floor etc) stabilize the spine, pelvis & shoulder girdle and consequently establish a solid basis to build our strength. We as humans are then able to generate considerable amount of power at our extremities. If however we are not contracting our core initially and utilizing our larger muscle groups we can sometimes lose this power and consequently recruit our larger muscles. This can often lead to injury and overuse conditions (eg carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive hamstring tears) and generally cause us physical grief and discomfort.
When we are encouraged to activate the TA many health professionals who know how to instruct the activation will often use a variety of cues. Some of these include ‘turn your tummy on’, ‘zip up and in’, ‘pelvic tilt’, ‘pull your belly button to your spine’. All of these are correct cues however sometimes the activation is not achieved by the TA but rather the larger abdominal muscles such as the rectus abdominis is activated instead.
When learning how to strengthen the core it is important that correct activation of the TA is achieved to ensure that the activation of TA can be transferred from daily activities such as house hold duties to manual labour and then to sport and gym based activities. Core strength is imperative in our daily lives to not only improve our general posture but also our balance and over all well-being.
Pilates is an excellent form of physical activity that encourages correct activation of TA and deep abdominals throughout all exercises. Exercise physiologists and physiotherapists are also well trained in the activation of TA. By discussing the importance of TA with these allied health professionals you could change your posture, your current pain discomfort and minimize your risk of injury.
Want a strong 6 pack? Activate the TA J