Activating Core Muscles

During your time with Optimum you have all heard us say “make sure your core is switched on” or “are you keeping your TA on”, some of you even recite it to us. But there are very valid and important clinical reasons for why we ensure your Transverse Abdominis (TA) is switched on.

Your TA, a key stabilizing muscle of the spine and pelvis, is a deep abdominal muscle attaching the pelvis to the lumbar vertebrae, also known as our lower spine. Put simply, when you activate your TA you provide a contraction which transmits stiffness to where TA attaches. TA stabilizes the pelvis and low back prior to movement of the body, just like how we tie up our shoe laces before we start to walk. This stiffness provides stability to our spine encircling the trunk like a corset.

Alongside TA, the lumbar multifidus (LM) are deep back muscles connecting from the top of one vertebra to the top of the vertebrae directly below. Basically these muscles attach and surround the individual bones of our spine. The LM generate large forces for stability and control within each segment of your spine.

If you have had rehab at Optimum for a back condition, chances are you may have, or are currently doing, a TA or LM based exercise, which is aimed at activating and strengthening the lumbar spine. If these muscles are smaller in size or more ‘atrophied’ they cannot produce as much stability compared to if they were larger. Furthermore, individuals with low back pain often have a reduced ability to voluntarily contract an atrophied muscle. Hence why activating these muscles in isolation during rehab is prescribed, aimed at restoring your control of TA and LM.

Think of it this way, you don’t wear your runners around without tying up your laces. You could, but it’s not very effective. You would soon find your foot is not supported inside your shoe and slips out. A similar concept applies to activating your TA before exercise to ensure stability of your lower back and hips, known as lumbar pelvic stability.

You could exercise without your TA activated but like the untied shoe laces your spine is not very supported or stabilised at all. When your spine is not stabilised due to being unable to switch on TA first, it is known as a dysfunction, and dysfunctions cause pain and injury.

So to avoid this, or to decrease injury and improve function it is important to have the TA switched on and braced before any exercise. Prior to your first rep, the TA provides stability by increasing interabdominal pressure, much like squeezing a deflated beach ball for it to become stiff again, this increase in stiffness increases stability through the trunk

You might not feel any different short term, but long term you will suffer consequences if your exercise lacks spinal stability provided by the TA.

So next time your hear one of the Optimum trainers asking “is your core switched on” you know why. This is one of our fundamental guidelines in which we prescribe exercises to you. As they say, you cannot build a strong house on a foundation made of sand.

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