The Harmony of Fluid Motion
It's been all the rage for quite some time now: people thinking that the critical factor in staying injury free is using their core muscles. Let’s explore this subject today…. Paul Hodges, and his research colleagues proved in 1994, that the core muscles activate a split second before we do any movement. This is extraordinary, if you think about it. Just before you lift your arm to move that irritating piece of hair from your eyes, your stomach contracts a bit, to stabilize your back. Just before you lift a chair or box, your brain computes the weight of the object and calculates how much activation will be needed to stabilize your spine and pelvis so you safely and without much stress, lift the object.
This ground breaking and brilliant research was taken to mean that it is vital to strengthen the core muscles over and above all other muscles. The world took the information to heart. The only problem is that the information was taken somewhat out of context. Having core strength doesn’t guarantee core use. Being strong, doesn’t translate into perfect muscle firing or correct timing of muscle contraction. The critical factor is being able to activate the right amount of muscles at exactly the right moment in exactly the right sequence.
Dianne Lee, a very imminent researcher into the pelvis likened it to an orchestra with its conductor. If we use her analogy and take it a whole lot further, we will see that we need the conductor to bring in the perfect amount of violin and the perfect amount of flute at the perfect moment for the sound to be harmonious and beautiful. In our own bodies, we need our brain to be the conductor and activate the perfect amount of contribution from each muscle and in the correct sequence and in the perfect ratio. It doesn’t help to have the most magnificently trained flute team, who play at full tilt, exquisitely, while nothing else works.
For gorgeous sound to come out of an orchestra, we need all the musicians to be excellent, we need the conductor to be strong and focused and brilliant enough to call each musician into action at the perfect moment in the perfect amount and with perfect timing. Clearly this is far more complicated than just strengthening each section of the orchestra. Having some core strength is vital, but we need far more than that if we are to have healthy spines and bodies.
Core muscles are a bit “precious” and over sensitive. For multiple reasons and with minimal provocation, they can “switch off”. When they don’t function, the spine , knee, shoulder or hip are left under protected. The body is not held stable enough to allow optimal function. Faulty movement patterns start to happen and in no time at all, faulty movement patterns become the norm!
So what upsets core muscle function?
Stress, fatigue, overwhelm, fear, emotional upset, mindlessness, multitasking, loss of confidence, financial pressure, uncertainty. These are all contributory factors.
These muscles need body awareness to work, so people who sit all day, immobile at their desks and computers are at risk of losing body awareness which alters the core muscle function.
People who stand or sit with poor posture switch these muscles off too. Pain of any sort, will also inhibit and slow them down.
What can we do to help our core activate the way it should, all the time? The answer needs, as always, to be multidimensional. It is not as simple as doing sit up’s like crazy. I advocate a three pronged approach to get you plugged in to your core and making beautiful, poetic and harmonious movements all day long whether you are an athlete, a dancer or a just a “normal person” who wants to be healthy.
Strengthen your core
Work your core in many different positions, don’t just lie down on your back and do crunches. You need it to fire wherever you are and in all positions and places. Train your core in standing, sitting and twisting. Try different activities, like dancing, yoga, or riding a bike. Put your shoes on standing on one leg, train your body to balance.
Be mindful when you move
When you lift or carry, pay attention. Not by being rigid, but by keeping your mind on the task. Be mindful of your state of wellbeing. Most of us pay far more attention to our physical condition than we do to our mental wellbeing. Be present in whatever you are doing. Let go of what has already happened and leave the future for the future. Bring your mind into whatever you are doing right now!
Get up and get out of your head and into your body as often as you can. Preferably hourly. We weren’t designed to sit at a computer all day. The more you move, the healthier you will be. Get up at every opportunity. It’s a simple equation; the more you move the better your body will function.
In short, use your tummy to do whatever you have to do. Think stomach and not lower back as you run up the stairs, get out of the car, roll out of bed. Consciously allow your stomach to do its fair share of the work of every movement. Not more than its fair share, mind you… just the right amount.