core muscles

How do I strengthen my Core?

If you have ever had repetitive lower back pain and have seen a professional or rehab specialist to try to address the problem, then you may have been told you have a “weak core and it needs strengthening”?

Unfortunately, in my opinion and experience, the word ‘Core’ gets used far too much by people that don’t truly understand it. The classic mistake is that some professionals generally view the abdominal muscles as being the core of the body and that by strengthening these muscles, your core will be ‘stronger’ and lower back pain will cease. As you may have already found, abdominal strengthening exercises such as planks and sit-ups do not solve repetitive lower back pain and can make it worse, here is why.

To truly strengthen your core, you have to make sure the muscles that make up the thoraco-pelvic canister (TPC) (described by Dr Evan Osar in his book ‘) are activated at all times to support your lower back. The TPC is best explained using the analogy of a tin can representing your abdomen and the muscles that make it up. The top being the diaphragm, the bottom being your pelvic floor muscles and the sides being your abs, internal and external obliques, Quadratus Lumborum etc..

I address the muscles of the TPC using exercises that address these 3 areas:

i) 25% of abdominal contraction engages a good amount of the core to stabilise the TPC. Therefore use progressed Dead bug and Bird Dog type exercises, then into activity specific strengthening. this is To strengthen the sides of the tin can.
ii) Progressed pelvic floor stabilisation exercises (sometimes used during Pilates based exercise) To strengthen the base of the tin can.
iii) Progressed Breathing correction exercises (use principle muscles such as the diaphragm and not accessory muscles around the neck and upper chest – Yoga emphasises this point and certain singing exercises) To strengthen the top of the tin can.

All areas must be worked for endurance type strength and not for power, therefore lots of repetitions which are gradually and gently progressed and challenged. Also, they must be worked in various positions that we adopt each day: Standing, sitting, lying down (although sitting in chairs is always bad for the back). By working these three areas your core will be super strong and you should find episodes of lower back pain and even episodes of recurrent neck pain should also decrease (due to deactivation of accessory muscles).