“Suck in the core.” “Crunches are the key to better abs”. “Bring your belly button to your spine”. “Just activate the transverse abdominis”. These are all common suggestions thrown around at the gym. We have been following such advice for many years and seldom question the recommendations because they make sense. However, these statements have little scientific background and have the potential to compromise the spine and slow physical progression. We must redefine how we approach core training. Also, it is important to remember that we all have different physical capacities, movement patterns, and injury histories. Therefore, a regimen that works well for someone may have negative consequences for another.
According to Dr. Stuart McGill, an expert on spinal biomechanics and performance, “repeated flexion-bending of the spine is necessary to cause (disc) herniation.” (McGill, 2014) Therefore, the typical sit-up, or crunch, has the capacity to promote repetitive flexion of the low back. This, in turn, compromises spinal function. Flexion with combined rotation, as seen with spine twisting exercise machines, has the potential to further aggravate the joints and tissues of the spine. (Aultman et al, 2004). Pavel Kolar, the founder of Developmental Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), reveals that each movement begins with an appropriately stabilized spine. DNS mimics the development of the locomotor system through the first year of development. To effectively stabilize the spine and allow for functional, safe, and powerful movements of the extremities, it is necessary to create pressure with the breath by activating the diaphragm to increase the pressure within the abdomen. Imagine a can with no fluid or pressure. It is very easy to collapse. Compare that to a full can that has not yet been opened. It is very difficult to collapse. Our spines function in a similar manner. We must learn to activate the diaphragm, rather than the accessory muscles of respiration found in the shoulders, neck, and between the ribs.
We typically take a developmental approach when working with patients. We teach our patients how to effectively breath to improve core stabilization and to reduce the constant stress on the muscles of the shoulders and neck. From there we can advance the patient’s functional capacity to perform movement by providing them with safe and effective exercises to activate the core muscles and to reduce spinal load. Visit our YouTube Channel to see alternative core specific exercises to implement into your routine. Be sure to check out the curl-up, side bridge, and the bird dog videos! If you find that it is difficult to grasp these concepts, or you experience any discomfort with these exercises, schedule an initial consultation with us. We would be happy to be a part of your journey to better health.