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working the core

Core – Let it Go

I still giggle at this recent tweet by Julian Baker @ecsbowen. Those of you that have worked with him know that he speaks directly! He runs cadaver dissection courses around the UK and this is how we met. I have been fortunate to attend a few of his courses over the years.

Is my giggle mixed with agreeable frustration instead? I do get frustrated by the barrage of messages, classes, courses being run about our ‘core’.

Firstly, if I ask someone or they tell me they want to strengthen their core, they invariably pat their stomach. This is where we have been trained to believe our ‘core’ is. This is a hotly disputed discussion point arising back in 1990’s from research in Australia. This research investigated trunk control in patients with low back pain.  The assumption became that weak abdominal muscles led to low back pain.  This led to an explosion in gyms and classes called ‘core stability training’ and expressions such as ‘sucking in the tummy muscles’ and ‘engage your core’ became the norm.

When you cut through those layers of skin and tissue of a human cadaver, there is not a little section inside saying ‘core’. It is really not like you can look at the inside of a body and say ‘Right this is clearly where the core starts and look, that’s where it ends’, or ‘Great, let’s tick that box – we have found the core!’

No! You cannot. Why? Because everything is intertwined and connected. Everything influences everything else. We do not have one group of muscles that give you a ‘core’. The muscles run into one another so how do I know which part is my core and which isn’t?

Julian states the ‘core is not a thing’. I agree. It is a coming together, an organisation of your whole body to function at its optimum efficiency. It cannot be seen or touched, but your intelligent body knows how to access strength when required. What it does not need is a bracing and squeezing of your abdominal region to ‘engage your core’. This has been found to sometimes do more harm than good.

Sometimes to illustrate my point to clients I will put them on the Pilates Reformer machine with no spring tension. The reformer carriage without tension will tend to drift away on its own. It has no resistance and pull to move it. So, if you lie supine on the machine, you no longer need to use brute force, superficial muscles to move it. You have to find a different strategy to control the carriage. If you can do this without gripping your feet, arching your back or pulling with your thighs, you will shift to a different place. You need to breathe, trust and let go. Clients say ‘I’ve never felt this sensation before’ or ‘this feels weird’ or ‘this is hard’. And I say, if you really need and want to have a ‘core’ then this is the ‘sensation’ of it. It is not a thing! It is your body working at its deepest level globally. The whole body is working as one unit. If you can start to tune into this connectiveness until it becomes subconscious, then you may have found your ‘core’.

Try too hard, push too hard and it will evade you!

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