What is Core Movement?
The visible motion we see is the result of voluntary movement of superficial muscles. The beauty of that movement relies on complex patterns deep within the CNS (central nervous system). Every movement you make begins with the core, whether you are reaching for your hairbrush or running a marathon. Just as the seed, the source of life of the apple, resides at the very core, so the seed of our movement lies deep within our intrinsic muscles. The intrinsic muscles, "core-stabilizing muscles," are responsible for joint stability, mobility and posture. Core strength is necessary for your average client to properly support their internal organs and hold their spines in alignment. It helps maintain proper posture and avoid the start of chronic back pain. Weak or poorly-controlled core muscles have been associated with lower back pain. The stronger and more correctly balanced the core muscles are, the less the uneven strain on the spine.
Which Muscles React?
The core region consists of far more than just the abdominal muscles. Core strength training aims to target all the muscles in the midsection of the body, from the base of the skull to the base of the tailbone. The core includes the pelvis, abdominals, back and chest muscles. The muscles of the trunk and torso act to stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle. It is the core that offers stability, balance and flexibility.
Translated to the back, the erector spinae and the rectus abdominis muscles produce voluntary movement while the multifidus and transverse abdominis muscles provide stability. The multifidus cross one, two and three inter-vertebral spaces, allowing fast reaction time and minute control over each disc. The specificity of the fibers allows the muscle to stabilize the spine and prevent excessive deflections. The deep intrinsic muscles react first, with superficial movement secondary.
When we move from our "core," our CNS immediately recruits both the deep erectors and the transverse abdominis, and then the ancillary muscles. For an athlete, core strength is fundamental for high-level performance. Sometimes with repetitive strain or movement (as in sports-related injuries), sustained end range loading or trauma, the body learns compensatory movement patterns to protect injured muscles. If compensatory patterns are repeated often enough and long enough, they become habitual. In this case, the CNS may bypass the deep stabilizing muscles and may send movement messages directly to the superficial muscles. The movement pattern may look much the same but is missing the element of core stability. Lack of core stability leads to more muscle imbalance, which, in turn, can be a precursor to more injury. For example, an ankle strain can lead to knee dysfunction and end up as lower back pain.
In order for your fitness clients to reactivate core stability, they need to reprogram their CNS, but the programming is locked away in the unconscious mind. The key to unlocking the system is bypassing the automatic switches and getting the message down to the lowest level of neuromuscular system. Your clients can do this by becoming aware of their movement (gaining conscious control) and thinking through the movement, thereby activating the movement learning centers of the brain. Moshe Feldenkrais, Vladimir Janda, Moira Stott and other movement specialists advocate "conscious" movement as a valid tool for movement re-training. This movement does not require great effort; it is small, slow and precise. In fact, large, forceful movement restricts the brain's ability to make sensory distinctions, while small movement with little effort prompts the CNS to re-program.
Try this Self-test
To help your clients feel co-contraction of the deep erectors and the transverse abdominis: Have them sit erect in a chair and place their hands on their hips with their fingers just medial to your ASIS. Have them draw in their navel in as they simultaneously brace their back. Do not let them raise their rib cage. They should be able to feel their muscles tighten under their fingers