By Yoga Teacher |
These are the days when everyone is talking about their abs, thinking that working to get that six-pack is what they need to strengthen their entire core.
But … Here is the surprise, your core is so much more than just that bit at the front and middle. The inner thighs, hip flexors, pelvic floor, the TvA (Transverse Abdominis), diaphragm, and rectus abdominus are all part of your core, and then some. I could even argue that your core starts at the big toes, but that is for another occasion.
As a prime example for this, have you got a six-pack and still feel that lower back ache? That dull feeling that is always just there after you’ve done your crunches? And is your belly still a bit rounder than you would ideally like it to be?
Now is your chance to discover why and, not entirely unimportant, how you can work towards that flat, strong belly and a core that is rock solid and functional. One that allows you to glide, and over time float, from a plank into a handstand.
Weak Core? Explained
First things first.
Why do you get that dull ache in your back after your crunches? And why doesn’t your stomach seems to be getting flatter no matter how many, or how often you do your crunches?
The answer to that is rather simple if you look at how your muscles are connected to your bones, and which muscles cause that nagging pain, or that protruding belly.
That and the fact that the Rectus Abdominus (your six-pack) isn’t a very functional muscle; it just looks good, but doesn’t pull the core tight, it’s the TvA that does that for you – if switched on and working all the time, every time!
Trained to the max, your six-pack will continue to curve because that is how this muscle is built. If your TvA isn’t switched on, then your back muscles will have to compensate. The problem is, they they can’t on their own – which is often the
reason for ending up with that niggle in the lower back after completing your crunches.
If your entire core isn’t strong enough to pull those crunches off you will use mainly your Psoas muscle, and because this originates from the lumbar spine (stabilising area – lower back) it will hurt your lower back doing crunches.
But then again, the abdomen must have some room to expand forward otherwise there would be no room to lower the diaphragm and use the full potential of our breathing. So, finding that balance between a “flat”, tight abdomen and a healthy ability to release those abs is needed.
Additionally, don’t forget that posture plays a huge role on whether or not we tend to have a ‘pot-belly’.
Transverse Abdominis Exercises
Right, let’s talk exercise – because that’s why you’re here.
The first thing we want to switch on is our TvA. The Transverse Abdominus, the muscle that keeps our centre in place.
If you ever use that big belt around your waist for lifting heavy weights, you’re basically replacing the TvA with an external device, robbing yourself of a good, a better workout. But then again, if you have no idea how to switch on that TvA, you cannot lift without the belt!
To switch on the TvA we first need to engage the pelvic floor muscles. The layers of muscles that fill the space at the bottom of your pelvis. Keeping your insides from dropping to the ground, simply put.
A proper activation of the pelvic floor already gives you the first kick-start to engage the TvA.
How? Very simple really.
Come onto all fours. Place your block between the thighs, engage the pelvic floor. Lower onto your forearms keeping the shoulders above the elbows and step back with both legs until you are in forearm plank. Squeezing the block tight between the legs.
Here comes the activation of the TvA, make fists of your hands and come onto the outside of your fists, try to drag your elbows towards the toes while at the same time you try to move the fists closer together, there is no actual movement other than the activation of that oh so important muscle.
You should feel a definite tightening around the navel and a feeling of becoming more ‘solid’ on the back between lower ribs and top of pelvis.
To get the muscle to work even harder rather than just get ‘switched on’, roll onto the outside of your right foot, both feet are stacked and the shoulder is still above the elbow.
Then press your hips up to the ceiling, arching the body up. Hold that position for five full breaths, in through your nose and out through the nose, then back to your fore-arm plank and onto the left side.
Awakening Your Core
Find yourself a sliding floor and grab a pair of socks and put them on. Come into plank and slide the legs alternately in, to exhaustion.
Take a 5 second breather, rest in child’s pose and come back into plank.
Then with straight legs slide both legs in to pike up into downward dog, or even closer to forward fold.
If you are strong enough in the whole of your core you bring your dominant leg (the leg you would kick up if you were allowed to fling those legs in the air) up.
The other leg follows neutral.
It’s important to control the kicking up of legs as we’re focusing on working the core.
Now You’ve Awakened Your Core…
Once you’ve well and truly awakened your core you can move on to Lolasana. In this one you will have to use your core to lift the legs.
Start by getting your two blocks. Sit on your knees between them, rest your hands on the centre of the blocks, then press your inner thighs together.
Pull up your pelvic floor and start to move your knees towards the chest. Slide the toes to begin with over the floor.
Note: Resist hopping up and press the legs up using the toes as we want to use the whole of your core; feel it in the pit of your belly. When you’re strong enough, or almost, shift your weight forward, lift the toes off the floor and dangle between your blocks.
If you have practiced this prep stage enough and you can hold the previous version for at least 10 breaths, take your blocks away and place the hands on the floor, pull the legs up, shift your weight forward and dangle in Lolasana.
Take Home Message
Start with these and next time we will explore more core exercises, because there’s so much more fun to be had.
I’m happy to answer any questions, you can find me on Instagram and Facebook as “Lucy Alves Yoga“.