MUSCLE FACTS – THE PELVIC FLOOR

The muscles of the pelvic floor form the bottom of the cylinder that protects the spine during movement and lifting. Training these muscles is particularly valuable for pregnant women or those who suffer from incontinence. Better control of the pelvic floor muscles can also help improve your sex life (they help men to maintain an erection and women to have more intense sexual feelings).

To find your pelvic floor muscles, imagine trying to stop yourself while urinating. The muscles you can feel working deep inside are those of the pelvic floor. Learning to contract these in combination with the stabilising muscles can help increase stability and protect the pelvic organs.

Though each of the abdominal muscles has a different job to do in the body, they do share some common roles. We can group them in two broad ways: Movement muscles. Some of the core muscles have a major role in movement, such as bending, twisting or extending the trunk. These muscles tend to be closer to the surface and include the rectus abdominis, better known as the six-pack muscle.

Stabilising muscles. Beneath the more superficial core muscles lie those that help support and stabilise the spine and pelvis during movement. Often neglected by many training programmes, these muscles play an essential role in maintaining good back health and posture. These muscles tend to work at a lower level than our movement muscles and are slower to tire. However, though they may have different individual roles, all our abdominal muscles play a very important role in supporting and protecting the spine during movement.

THE INTEGRATED AND ISOLATED FUNCTION OF THE CORE

It is important to remember that the body functions as one total unit. Although we can train areas such as the core in isolation, these muscles work together with the rest of the body to enable us to move and function better. Even when simply raising your arm to take a drink, the first muscles to work are those of the core. So, for our core training to be truly effective and functional, we should focus on combining the more static exercises that we use at the start with dynamic, multi-directional movement that will work the core as it is designed to be used, providing stability through motion.

An effective core-training programme needs to concentrate on the needs of both stabilising and movement muscles, and should not just be based on the sit-up or crunch movements. If your abs workout at the gym consists of 10 minutes spent on an ab-cradle or weighted sit-up machine at the end of the session, you need to change how you are training. Most fixed machines do little except help promote the hunched posture. Despite this, people seem to be hypnotically drawn to them in the hope that a quick set of crunches will give them the eye-popping abs they want. Let me burst that bubble here and now, it won’t! What it will do is develop muscle imbalance, poor posture and faulty movement patterns.

Remember that abdominal training should always begin by working on stability, not performance. Without proper control of the stabilising muscles, you can cause further problems and increase the risk of injury. Contrary to popular belief, it is quality that is important when training the core, not the quantity. By integrating the whole body movements with basic, simple core-specific movements, we can train the core to function correctly.

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