There is a lot of research evidence describing the co-contraction of your CORE MUSCLES pelvic floor (PF) and transversus abdominus (TrA) in unison with your diaphragm (D) and Multifidii (MF). If you think of an apple – the CORE is in the middle,the deepest part – your CORE muscles are your deepest layer of muscles and are designed to gently work in the background.
Your brain is effectively pre-programmed for this to happen automatically, without you having to think about it. A split second before your ‘moving’ muscles twitch and contract,your brain sends a message to the CORE to tighten – like doing up the stays on a corset, thus stabilising and supporting your spine, pelvis and pelvic organs whilst your ‘moving’ muscles do their job of moving you. When everything is working in harmony, the system works well.
But like any group of muscles,they can become weak, disorganised and poorly co-ordinated. Some of the main causes of this can be:
- pelvic or low back pain
- continuous poor postures at work or play
- poor lifting technique
- pregnancy and childbirth ( vaginal or caesarean)
- overworking outer abdominals ( six pack) in the gym
The brain starts to compensate as well as it can, and new movement patterns become the ‘norm’ with muscles being recruited to move you but without that underlying supporting corset working as effectively as it should. Over time this can cause wear and stress on deeper structures such as spinal joints and ligaments and pelvic organs.
So whilst we focus so much on the pelvic floor, it can’t be used properly or effectively without also co-ordinating with the other core muscles. A correct pelvic floor contraction involves the diaphragm, deep abdominal and multifidus. However once these muscles are working as a team again, they quietly work in the background, supporting and stabilising you….the action becomes automatic .
Hmmm I don’t think I mentioned the rectus abdominus (or six-pack). Well that’s because it has no business being involved in your core contraction or a pelvic floor contraction.
It’s job is to move you, bend you in the middle – it is an important muscle but not when it comes to core support. Unfortunately it is the main one that we start to compensate with when the core muscles aren’t co-ordinating with each other and this is how you get into the bad habit of sucking the belly button in to stand tall and to support for exercises. How many times have you heard “pull your belly button to your spine” as a cue to engage your core to start an exercise? Whilst there is a slight indrawing of your belly button this is as a result of contracting the core NOT the main action of a core contraction . Understanding the difference is the difference between a correctly performed core action and a compensatory action.
Have a go at trying it this way :
- Lie on your side , hips and knees bent about 90 degrees. Place your hand between the belly button and the pubic bone so that you are “cupping” your lower belly with your hand.
- Relax completely and let your belly ‘go’. Now gently tighten your pelvic floor as if stopping wind and a wee, or feel as if you are pulling an imaginary tail between your legs (but don’t actually move your pelvis). As you do this be aware of what your tummy is doing – it should automatically pull gently away from your hand . If it does then well done - you are activating your deep abdominal with your pelvic floor. It is programmed to happen together as a ‘couple’. Don’t worry if it doesn’t – try the next step to actively contract the two together .
Whenever you do this, it should be gentle enough that you can hold the contraction and continue to breathe or talk. It is so subtle that it is tempting to think “that can’t be strong enough , I’ll add a bit of oomph” but if you do , you will suck the belly button in using the six pack.
Remember – we need the six pack to be available to move us, it’s job is not to act as a core muscle.
- If you are having trouble activating the PF and TrA together , try this :
Start as above , as you gently tighten your PF imagine that you are pulling your hip bones together at the front or that you are zipping up your jeans and not wanting to catch your pubic area in the zip (ouch!) . Hold gently and breathe
- Breathing is integral to the co-ordination so if your breathing won’t co-operate try this :
Imagine a candle in front of you – gently blow the candle out and as you do,start to gently tighten the pelvic floor and deep tummy as above. This should help you co-ordinate the diaphragm with the PF and TrA.
Once you can do this in lying, try in sitting and standing and then try it as you do functional things like standing up, picking up the washing basket or your brief case and as a preparation for exercise . If you practise consciously , the action will soon become subconscious and automatic again.
REMEMBER : Gentle, NO sucking in, NO breath holding, NO thighs and NO buttocks. Keep the moving muscles for moving and only use the suppport muscles for supporting you.
Happy practising until next time..