As a younger me I thought my core was invincible. Turns out, despite a career in sport and fitness, it was not. Now after 2 kids and untold injuries my core is in many ways much stronger. I don’t quite have the same, aesthetically pleasing abs as I once had! But then I’m not about to start doing selfie’s with my T-shirt pulled up. Quite frankly I’m not sure why anyone else does either - they’re just abdominals for goodness sake and not that important.
The muscles that are important however are the ones that lie underneath. You can’t see them but they do a hell of a lot more than that washboard stomach. They help you breathe properly, pee, poo, have sex, give birth, flatten your belly and stop you getting back ache, hip ache and any number of aches and pains.
To get a visual of them, think of your spine running though the center of a drum called ‘the 3D Core’ – the top of the drum is your diaphragm, the front sides are your deep abdominal muscle, the Transversus abdominis (TA) and running up the back is the Multifidus . The base of your drum is the pelvic floor. It’s not quite as simple as this – there are lots of other muscles and stuff that play a part. What we really need to know is that we ALL have this inner core unit and that it is truly amazing! (diagram courtesy of www.fittodeliver.com)
I became acquainted properly with my inner core when I started doing Martial Arts in my thirties…
Dean Hodgkin asked me to contribute to TKO, a martial arts based fitness programme, but I really felt I couldn’t unless I had a better understanding of where he was coming from. So I threw my self into Karate – literally - and I’m so glad I did. In my karate group we didn’t speak about the core, we didn’t even talk about our Chi or Ki or whatever. We kind of just did it – by our actions, movements and most importantly BREATH and voice, we subliminally used and strengthened our 3D core - not just as individuals but as a group – which is kind of weird! Ask anyone who’s into holistic practice and they will tell you that being in a group of chanting, breathing, like minded souls can feel deeply stronger than any super hero fantasy power. And you don’t have to be up a mountain or in temple, or have done a course in ‘mindfulness’ to experience this. Just a plain old sports hall in South West London did it for me! I still wasn’t totally clued up. In fact it wasn’t until I’d been weakened through pregnancy that I truly realized what I’d had and consequently lost.
This is what makes inner core awareness training so important. Many would argue that you don’t need to train these muscles per say. And it’s true – the body needs to work as a whole and we should be training these muscles functionally and in unison with all the rest. But try telling that to a woman who’s had a horrendous birth and feels like her insides (if she could feel anything) are falling out. Which by the way they probably are, now that’s no joke.
Part of my job is to try to make women feel more comfortable about talking about these issues and helping them to over come them. This has led me to believe that both women and men need to be far more aware of the pelvic floor as a part of the 3D core. One of the main reasons for this is that the pelvic floor is like the ignition switch to the rest of the 3d core - consciously switch it on and you will invite a whole load of other inner muscles to switch on too. Being aware of it also helps you to focus more inwardly and start to feel and visualize your inner core muscles so that when you are doing any type of activity you know you are firing up on the inside too.
I find it fascinating that this state of inner core consciousness is seen as only necessary for the pregnant, postnatal or infirm. From sports and back injuries to childbirth and prostate cancer - inner core awareness could save our NHS so much money and improve the quality of so many more lives.
But this is the most worrying factor - Over the last two years I have been working more and more with kids and I am appalled by their lack of natural strength, posture and core control. Blame it on screens, lack of natural play, whatever, core muscles are not been given the chance to develop, let alone maintain their strength, which doesn’t bode well for future generations.
In my role as ambassador for INNOVO Therapy I have recorded a series of workouts for the pelvic floor. You can download them onto your phone as an audio podcast or video for FREE. There’s a nice little hypnotic visual and you get to here me rabbiting on some more about the pelvic floor!
If you are pregnant or postnatal then these are a must. Be aware though that you do need to be working other muscles as well so check out my Baby A-Wake programme too. If you are not pregnant or postnatal - may be you have been a long time ago? Or may be you hope to be? Or if you are male or not even doing the baby thing, then you need to be aware that your pelvic floor can weaken in many, many other ways that affect us all. So go on….Go Deep