What does core strength really mean and why does it matter?

Leslie Uffman Aguilar
February 18, 20210 Comment

The core is so much more than the six-pack! We’re getting into what it is and why it matters!

Mentioned in this episode:

Everyday Healthy Mamas Membership

5 Steps to a Strong and Healthy Core

Pelvic Floor Episode – Diastasis Episode

We are talking about your core today, but first, I wanted to take a moment to remind you that I’m getting off of social media. It’s pretty crazy to be doing this as an online business. In fact, it’s kind of unheard of at this point, but I’m going for it, because I no longer want to contribute to the dreaded scroll, and I think we all agree that we’d be happier if we spent less time on social.  So now I have my free off-Facebook wellness membership for mamas that you can login and peruse at your own pace.  And I’m only giving you content that I think will be useful to you, rather than x amount of posts per week to boost myself to the algorithm. 

I think that you’ll get a lot more out of it if you come to it with the intent of being encouraged, challenged, and learning rather than just seeing a post by happenstance when your feed decides to show it to you.  Plus, you won’t miss anything, because when you log in, all the posts will be there in chronological order without a bunch of other stuff trying to grab your attention. And my platform is setup better for me to include some fun extras for you, I’m not going into more details on that yet but I’m really excited about it. I’ll link it in the show notes for anyone interested.

Besides my membership, I’ll still be producing this podcast, and I’ll be posting more on my website, because again, I’m not focused on tons of content for different social media platforms, so I can just focus on the best stuff.

So to the core. . .

When I say core I’m talking from the tops of the thighs to right under the chest.:

That includes:

  • Glutes – and different glute muscles do different things
  • Hip flexors – they’re right at the crease above your leg and help you draw your legs in toward your body
  • Pelvic floor – This group is often forgotten, but in the context of prenatal and postpartum it never should be, and thankfully, for general health more people are talking about it.  I’ve spent an entire episode on this one, that I’ll link in the show notes
  • Spinal stabilizers – Pretty self-explanatory group, and they’re worked any time you’re doing exercises that work along your back line
  • Deep core – This is usually the innermost layer of your abdominal muscles, the transverse abdominus, and it’s shaped and functions very much like an internal corset
  • Inner and outer obliques – These are typically just talked about in the context of bicycle crunches, and rarely do I hear much about how valuable rotation is for everyday life
  • Six-pack – Rectus abdominus, they pull your legs to your chest they’re superficial (not as in they’re only about looks and you shouldn’t care about them, but as in they’re closest to the exterior of your body)
  • Diaphragm – Like the pelvic floor, this muscle is often left out of lists, but it matters so much in terms of the overall function of the core unit

I took the time to name all of those primarily because when you hear them all, you can recognize that the common practice of inserting a 5 minute core section into a workout that’s made up almost exclusively of crunch variations is probably not going to effectively strengthen all of them! 

Your core is a complex and dynamic system of muscles.

To strengthen it, you’ll want to start from the foundation up. That means in the beginning, you’ll be focused on glutes, deep core, pelvic floor, and diaphragm. 

To exercise your diaphragm, you’re pretty much doing breath work.  Which is logical, but did you know that your pelvic floor almost always mirrors your diaphragm?  So if you’re breathing well, then your pelvic is probably moving well too.  And by the way, if you work out with your guy, this is all true for him too, and yes, men can have pelvic floor dysfunction too. And then your deep core, those corset muscles love a good breathing pattern as well.

Besides breath work, you’re going to stabilize the hips and spine. Then you’ll start working your way outward.  So you’ll add in exercises targeting the internal and external obliques.  And finally, from there, you can start doing crunches, or alternatives that work along that front line of the body.

I’ve got a helpful free resource (click here to get it!) that walks you through this whole process called 5 Steps to a Strong and Healthy Core with example exercises for each step along the way.

So we’ve defined anatomically what we’re talking about with the core, but why does that matter? 

To get a good idea of this, I want you to visualize a skeleton.  Think about where the most mass is. 

You probably thought of the rib cage and pelvic girdle, right?  Now think about the lumbar spine.  There’s not a lot going on there is there?  And yet, that spine has to connect the pelvic girdle to the ribs, support your entire upper body, and deal with the impact of walking, running, or jumping of your lower body. 

A strong core can help protect that precious lumbar spine.  A strong core can keep that spine in neutral alignment so that all those discs between vertebrae are pressured evenly.  A strong core can brace so that sudden jarring doesn’t contort your body too much and leave you vulnerable to injury.

And it can help protect from other injuries as well.  For instance, what we feel as knee pain is often caused by instability in the hips that causes the force to travel into our knees in a suboptimal way that over time manifests as pain at that joint.  In fact, a lot of discomforts for runners come from a core that isn’t strong enough to handle the training we want.  Remember, during pregnancy, your legs and their muscles weren’t stretched beyond reason.  So even if your legs are ready pretty quickly, your core may not be.

A strong core can seemingly make your arms and legs stronger too. When your core unit is functioning well, it creates a foundation and support for your limbs. And side note that I may address in greater detail in a future episode is something that we focus on a lot in Pilates called hip disassociation. That’s when you focus on moving the leg within that ball and socket hip joint freely. It’s surprising how common it is to get a little locked up there, and then when you move your legs for running for instance, that motion is tugging on your whole pelvis and low back.  But if your femur is free in that socket, your hips will be much happier.  That issue is especially common in postpartum because our legs rotate outward as we near delivery and our pelvis widens.  It’s wild how many unconscious and subtle changes our bodies make to prep for delivery isn’t it?  That’s why you have to respect that postpartum recovery time and realize that it’s far more than 6 weeks.  Everything about how we move gets changed, and if we’re not conscious in how we train, we just assume that everything is as it always was, and it’s just not.  That doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it different and being really aware of what’s going on in your body is key to coming back strong.

A strong core also is what is going to enable you to freely play with your babies.  Think about wrestling with them, you’re picking them up and swinging them around.  All of that requires core strength to stabilize your hips and spine as your arms and legs are carrying yourself and baby. And just today, I was holding both of my daughters and dancing to a song, then I started running around the house with them both, one on each hip.  I’ve talked about it some, but if you missed it, I had some pretty severe hip pain during pregnancy and early postpartum, we’re talking, I woke my hubby up some nights to help me roll over because I felt completely locked up and I couldn’t do it without help. I also had low back pain and was unable to do bath time by myself where you have to lean out and over, which requires back strength.  I even had to call for help a few times because I just plain couldn’t pick up my older daughter.  So when I talk about carrying them both around completely pain free, it’s a big deal for me. It took a lot of focused exercises to get here, but I wouldn’t trade their giggles for anything.

I would like to add that during that pregnancy, I did go to a women’s health physical therapist and she helped me a lot with managing that SI joint discomfort, but you still have to actually do the recommended exercises that a therapist gives you.  It all takes some time, but the freedom that you can have is worth all of it.

And while we’re on the topic of therapeutic exercise, I just wanted to remind my postpartum audience that as you’re building core strength to be mindful of some of those common concerns such as pelvic floor dysfunction and diastasis recti.  I’ve got separate episodes on those (linked above). 

As always, this is not about vanity (although, I don’t know of any woman who doesn’t want to look her best), the core strength that I encourage is so that you are strong and capable for all of life’s demands, and some things that aren’t demands really, but they’re just fun.  Like swinging your kids around and hearing their joyful squeals.  If there’s a better sound to a mother’s ear, I certainly haven’t heard it (and I was a professional musician).  Beautiful sounds were kind of my thing. . .

So now that you’re all convinced of the complexity and importance of the core unit, be sure to grab the gift I mentioned earlier and get working on your own core strength in a way that is safe and effective.

Talk to you soon!

Hi there!

I believe that we are all made in the image of God, and should respect and be grateful for our bodies.

A big part of that is moving regularly, eating nutritious food, and resting.  And I also believe that living a healthy lifestyle can and should be simple and enjoyable!

I combine my training as a postpartum exercise specialist, Pilates teacher, nutrition coach, health coach, and green beauty advocate to help you build a lifestyle that meets your needs and makes you feel great.

Things I love: Playing violin, reading, long stroller walks, The Office, and Batman