How to re-train your primary deep core muscles
The primary deep core muscles are designed to automatically co-contract prior to moving your body so you can move and function more efficiently. Their role is stabilize and control your spinal and SI joints (hips and back) as well as support your internal organs, and assist with bladder, bowel, and sexual function.
As we age, the deep core weakens and becomes less responsive resulting in imbalances that cause back, hip, postural, and pelvic floor issues. Other factors that can contribute to lack of deep core function are:
- back, hip, pelvic pain
- sedentary lifestyle
- breath holding/shallow breathing habits
- over-working superficial abdominal muscles
- poor posture
- excessive heavy lifting and straining
- abdominal or back surgery
- chronic stress and anxiety
- certain health conditions
The purpose of this sequence is to cultivate mind-body connection, help you sense the feeling of muscle activation, and re-train your body to initiate movement from the deep core. It involves conscious and contra-lateral movements which are a great way to stimulate both your body and your brain.
You’ll start by accessing the deepest layers of your core through the breath and the intention to move. Then, you’ll progress from smaller to bigger movements.
Before you get started, take a few minutes to practice three dimensional diaphragmatic breathing in child’s pose to facilitate core function and ease tension in your back and hips. As you breathe in, imagine moving your breath (down, back and wide) into your pelvic floor. Let your exhalation come back to you naturally. Allow each inhalation to evenly expand the core of your body 360 degrees. With each exhalation, allow your body to soften into the shape of child’s pose. Then, do cat-cow sequence 5-6x to warm up your spine.
Step 1 Intention to Move
The idea of this exercise is to activate the deep core by “thinking” about and attempting to lift your hand/leg. Consciously attempting to lift your arm/leg is a great way to improve sensory awareness, access new neural pathways, and prepare your body for movement.
- Come to a tabletop position. Place your wrists slightly forward and wider than your shoulders. Spread hand and fingers evening into the ground. Place knees beneath hips while gently pressing the top of your feet into the ground.
- Establish a neutral spine with your head aligned with your spine. Gaze between your hands.
- Practice 3 dimensional diaphragmatic core breathing. To do this, visualize the dimensions of your core, the space between the diaphragm (lower rib cage) and the pelvic floor, the back and abdomen, and the right and left waist. Then, take a deep breath in to evenly expand the circumference of your core from the top to the bottom, the front to back, and side to side. Take a long slow breath out to gently pull the pelvic floor up toward the lower rib cage and lower rib cage toward pelvic floor while simultaneously pulling abdomen and back toward each other as well as the waistline. Without clinching or moving your spine or pelvis. Notice what it feels like deep within your core. Keep this sense of supple support. Practice this for 4-5 cycles while observing how your body responds to the breath.
- Then, bring your attention to where your hands and legs are in contact with the floor. Inhale. Exhale as you “think” about simultaneously lift your right hand and left knee/foot off of the floor, (don’t lift them, only “attempt” to lift them) while pressing down through your left hand and right shin. You’ll experience a small degree of shifting in your body, but try to maintain a sense of control through your core minimizing movement in your pelvis or spine (hips and back) as best as you can. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Pay attention to how “attempting” to lift your arm/leg feels in your body. Notice how your whole body responds to this exercise. Switch sides. Repeat 2-3x on each side holding 5-10 seconds.
Step 2 Single Opposite Hand/Leg Hover
As you exhale, simultaneously hover (approximately 1/2 inch) your right hand and your left knee and foot off of the floor while pressing down through the opposite hand/shin/foot. Keep frontal hip bones pointing toward the floor. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Switch sides. Repeat 2-3x on each side.
Step 3 Bird Dog
As you exhale, simultaneously hover your right hand and left leg, then slowly reach your right arm forward with your thumb pointing toward the sky as you reach your left leg back so they are relatively parallel to the floor. Repeat on the opposite side. Do 5-6x on each side holding for 5-10 seconds.
Step 4 Double Knee Hover
As you exhale, simultaneously press down through your hands and feet (as if you are pressing the floor away from you) and hover knees (approximately 1 inch) off of the floor. Inhale, lower knees to the floor. Repeat 6-8x.
- take a rest in child’s pose between the exercises as needed
- if you feel pressure in your knees, place a small towel under knees
- If you feel pressure in your shoulders or wrists, try it on forearms
- if you experience pain, back off or come out of the pose
- these exercises aren’t intended to substitute medical treatment. If you experience persistent pain, please seek a qualified health care professional
As you explore the exercises, keep in mind the goal is to train your primary deep core muscles that stabilize your joints and support your body during movement while minimizing undesired movement in your hips, back, and shoulders (pelvis, rib cage, and spine). You can expect to feel a small degree of shifting internally; but, try not to move your hips side to side, arch your back, collapse into your shoulders, or hyper-extend your elbows. What matters most is that you move from your core avoiding compensatory patterns of movement that create tension, strain or gripping. Practice step 1 and 2 until you feel a greater sense of core control. Then progress to step 3 and 4.
Here is the thing, anyone can mindlessly go through the motions. Instead, I invite you to move and breathe slowly and mindfully sensing how your body responds to small conscious movements. Bring your awareness to your whole body. Pay attention to the internal sensations as you transfer your weight from side to side. Moving consciously with your breath allows you to be more present and engaged mentally and physically maximizing stability and strength.
Try it! Let us know how it goes!
Wishing you well,
Integrative Coach | Yoga Teacher |Movement Educator
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