The best way to run faster, get around that squash court faster, stop backache and get less wobbly is to engage the core. Ah, the mythical core. Runners with sore knees are often told to improve their core strength, so off they go and do enough sit ups to give them a permanent stoop. Or they hold the plank for minutes on end. Knees still hurt – but at least their abs are strong – they hope.
This core thingy is actually the TVA – transversus abdominis – and it wraps around the guts, running from the low ribs to the hip bones, from spine to mid section. It should contract lightly, working like a corset. The firing pattern of the abs should start with the TVA and then the rest follow. Other interesting things happen – the pelvic floor should lift and the deep muscles of the spine wake up and do useful jobs – like supporting the spine. Some authors, like Richardson, Hodges and Hides1 think that other supporting muscles in the body, like the VMO of the knee, wake up and work out too.
So all in all, an excellent thing.
The problem is that most people’s TVA is fast asleep. When they engage their abs, they merely stiffen their midsection, so a plank is very hard work and sit ups have their low back flapping up and down like a landed fish. If the abs harden when they engage, how on earth can we breathe when rushing about playing sports, running or cycling?
An easy way to get in touch with the TVA is to lie in the bath and relaaaxx. Then, when it gets a bit boring, lift the pelvic floor. If the TVA is in any way active, we should see our belly button magically float in towards our spine. Then we do it the other way – gently pull the belly button inwards and we should feel the pelvic floor lifting up. The blokes should see an actual lift of the tip of the penis or see/feel their balls ascending. For us girls, if we can’t feel anything, then stick a finger up and give it a bit of a squeeze.
The core should work automatically. Eating stuff that does not agree with us, or having tummy ache, will mean the TVA will not contract. If we have a sore finger, the last thing we want to do is squeeze it! And so it is with sore guts.
Abdominal surgery will make it hard for the TVA to engage, for the same reason – sore guts, plus cut abdominal muscles and scar tissue.
So if the core is not engaging, we need to rehabilitate it when we have calmed the guts down. Stuffing down a cheese sandwich is a sure way of de-activating the core.
We also need to get the cranial nerves activating the guts going again – for example the vagus nerve helps digestion. This is the wondrous world of Z-health.
To get a truly strong, active core requires a whole series of activities before even thinking about doing 50 sit ups. Come to that, it won’t be necessary to do 50 sit ups unless there is really nothing better to do in life.
But starting in the bath is a good place to begin.
And the benefits of a good strong core will be felt in the bedroom by both sexes.
- Therapeutic Exercise for Lumbar Stabilisation. Richardson, Hodges and Hides. [↩]