In your core you have “muscles you can see” and the real core muscles “you can’t see.” But why are those core muscles so vital, and why should you train them?
Core muscles are muscles that basically have a holding and protecting function for the spine. These muscles are small (about the size of your thumb) in the back of your spine and run from one vertebrae to another. The core muscles within in the front of your trunk are about as thick as 15-20 pieces of typing paper and generally lie across the abdomen horizontally. The muscles you CAN see, that most of us think of as abs, run vertically.
The core muscles help prevent too much “wobble” in the spine when moving because of the way they hold the spine steady and keep movement smooth. These muscles bring stability to the spine and take loading pressure off it. Think of a tube of toothpaste. Your hand around the end the tube acts like the core muscles of the spine. When you squeeze the tube there is a natural pushing up of the toothpaste toward the other end of the tube. In much the same way, the core muscles squeeze the trunk and take pressure off the spine, resulting in a happier and well-functioning structure.
Another way to think about the core muscles is to imagine they are guide wires supporting a tall tower. When these cables are balanced and equally strong the tower can withstand strong winds by holding the tower steady. When one or more of the guide wires are loosened or not working, a strong wind in the right direction can cause the tower to waver or even fall. The core muscles are important in this way to protect the spine from too much pressure and unhealthy loading that can harm the joints and shock-absorbing discs of the back.
So exactly how do you train those hard-to-reach, can’t be seen core muscles? Stay tuned for my next core article.
Chris Dollar, DPT, PT, FAAOMPT is a clinical specialist physical therapist and Coordinator of Clinical Education for OrthoCarolina. His area of practice focus is in the evaluation and treatment of spinal conditions.