In the first article of the same name I discussed commonly held misconceptions about core strength and examined why the concept itself is problematic when applied to the human muscular system. This short follow up article will give a general overview what core strength really is.
When we think of an apple core, we note that the core in fact runs down the entire length of the fruit. The seeds may be housed in the centre, but the core extends from the stem through to the remains of the flower on the other end. Likewise, if we are to use the term with reference to the human body, we would do well to acknowledge that the spinal column, which extends from the head down to the tailbone, is the core, rather than any particular muscle or set of muscles. Thus, core strength means spine strength, or in simple terms back strength. When we have a strong back, then all other parts of the body will likewise be strong.
So, what constitutes a strong back? As I always tell my clients, ‘A long back, is a strong back’. If we examine a diagram of the spine, we can see that it has curves- it is not straight. These curves are necessary to provide flexibility, range of motion, and shock absorption. However, when these curves are accentuated, there is a shortening of the spine from one end to the other. This shortening of the back leads to a collapse of the muscles which provide the postural stability, which in turn results in an improper functioning of the moving parts, i.e., the arms and legs.
It was Frederick Mathias Alexander who first observed the importance of possessing a lengthened spine in order for the body to operate effectively and efficiently. When the spinal column collapses, the whole body begins to collapse, leading to a misalignment of the working parts in relation to the rest of the body. Without this length there is a build-up of pressure on the joints as muscles which should be working are disengaged and other muscles are forced to pick up the slack. This gives rise to what Alexander referred to as a position of mechanical disadvantage, in that any movement or action carried out in this state would prove unproductive and even harmful.
Thus, to strengthen the core, or spine, we need to first restore it to its full length. Without first restoring length to the spine, any exercises or stretches aimed and increasing strength and flexibility will ultimately prove counterproductive. Our bodies are constantly at war with gravity, whose force is always exerting a downwards pull. Unless we have developed an approach to counteract this force and maintain the length of the spine in our daily activities, we will find that with time our bodies become less responsive, weaker, less flexible and prone to discomfort, pain, and injury.
In the rehabilitation of injury, it is therefore of primary importance to first establish the length of the spine, and then restore the correct working relationship between the spine and the limbs. This is what I refer to as postural reintegration, without which there can be no core strength.