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Today I want to focus on our deepest core muscles. So many people ask me what the best exercises are to have toned and defined 6-pack abs – unfortunately this blog is not going to answer that for you! But what I WILL talk about, is what our deepest core muscles are and why they are important so that hopefully you can incorporate core awareness into all of your training. And in doing so, it may just make the quest for a more defined outer core safer, more effective and more sustainable too.
Think of the deepest core muscles like glad wrap that wraps around to support our spine and abdominal organs. These muscles include the transversus abdominus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.
Working these muscles in more isolation is not going to give you that ‘abs burn’ that you will get from working the outer abdominal muscles, because they are more built for endurance but think of these muscles as giving a big hug to your spine and all the abdominal organs. They also support posture and breathing.
So with that in mind, finding a neutral spine, lying on your back, with the knees bent, can be a great place to start, in terms of achieving greater deep core awareness in more isolation.
As you exhale, imagine a piece of string between both hip bones, gently drawing them towards each other. Inhale to release. Breathing should be natural and not forced. This should feel like everything is very subtly drawing in, rather than bracing out. This is just one cue that might make sense for you and your body but there are many others – different cues work for different people.
Once you have some awareness of activating those deeper core muscles in more isolation, here are some examples of exercises incorporating the deep core muscles with movement and a bit more load!
1. Single knee lifts:
2. Four point kneel reaches:
Tip: Find that neutral spine position, and pay attention to breathing out on the more challenging part of the exercise, to get the most effective activation of the deeper core muscles.
Also, remember that core activation is not something that we can expect to have 24/7 – our core can’t be ‘on’ ALL the time through life. The key is to have awareness over what the deep core is, and how to activate the deep core to support the body, relative to what we are doing, and the load we are applying on our body. I’ve only just scratched the surface of this topic – there are so many layers to it (don’t mind the pun).
As I said at the beginning, people always ask me what the best exercises are to get a 6-pack of abs. These exercises won’t directly help you get there, but what they will do, is help to create a more stable base when layering on outer core muscle strength exercises, and it will mean that when doing the more challenging core exercises, such as crunches or plank based exercises the body will be more supported, and hopefully also be at less risk of injury.
I hope this has helped give you some insight into the importance of training our deepest core muscles. Yes, they are hidden deep, but they still very much matter! Above all, if in doubt, go and see a relevant health professional to check in with your technique and biomechanics. Taking the time to get it right will definitely give you the best possible outcomes from your training.