What is the core?
‘The Core’ is essentially a collective term to refer to the primary muscles at your centre. These muscles collectively bring stability to the spine and support movement of the limbs. The core makes up nearly half the body, and includes all the muscles that attach to the pelvis and spine.
To the rehabilitation world the core is the thoraco-lumbar-pelvic (trunk) complex. It is composed of as many as 35 different muscle groups! These muscles connect into the pelvis from the spine and hip area. In order to simplify the Core muscles I usually divide them into four regions; back extensors, abdominals, lateral trunk muscles, and the hip muscles.
The core as a cylinder, not a 6 pack
Put simply, you can think about the core as a cylinder; it has a bottom (the pelvic floor muscles), a top (the diaphragm) and sides (the abdominals, obliques and back muscles). I’ve put in some diagrams to really help you see how all these muscles come together to create ‘the Core’.
the front of the core, the most superficial muscles
The back of the core, the most superficial muscles
See how it looks like a cylinder? You can see the deep back, front, side and pelvic floor muscles
the deep back muscles of the core
the lateral or side muscles of the core
The core’s VIP: The Diaphragm
We already know that it’s primary function is to stabilise, but how? Well, this is where the diaphragm is really funky and important: the core creates stability when it generates intra-abdominal pressure by a gentle ‘drawing in’ action from all sides of the cylinder at the same time… but particularly from the diaphragm being a secure lid.
So what happens if our diaphragm doesn’t function optimally?
Well, studies have looked at the associations between lower back pain and diaphragm functioning. One study in particular found:
- Comparing people with lower back pain (LBP) to people without, the LBP group had less diaphragm movement when they inhaled and exhaled
- The difference was more noticeable during inhalation, and they noted the diaphragm was positioned higher than the other pain-free group
- This finding was even more pronounced when they added a level of physical exertion (a simple postural task)
The researchers hypothesize that this dysfunction of the diaphragm may exacerbate syptoms of lower back pain by increasing the anterior shear forces on the ventral region of the spinal column.
It’s all very interesting. But how does this information help you?
Well, it means you now know where to start if you want to prevent or start treating lower back pain. Let the process of holistic treatment begin…
How to train and strengthen your core
There are a plethora of ways to train your core. Let me tell you, sit-ups and crunches are NOT THE ONLY WAY! (they’re actually the worst way). Now that you understand how the core functions, you can see how it comes into play all the time, not just when we try to isolate it. Since our centre of gravity resides within our pelvis, and is where all movement begins; our core becomes fundamental for creating stability of all our lower limb movements. This even includes simple ankle and knee movements!
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Transverse abdominus activation
- Pelvic tilts
- Isometric exercises (no movement) e.g. dead bugs
Then build strength and control:
- Animal crawls
- Bird-dog (4-point alternative arm leg extension)
- Forearm plank and side plank
Then implement into:
- Compound movements e.g. lunges or lunges with single arm press
- Dynamic movements e.g. cable rotations
- Unilateral exercises e.g. single arm cable or dumbbell press
There are many exercises that I prescribe to my patients for core strengthening. The exercises include basic body-weight movements, sometimes really simple exercise to increase body awareness, proprioception and neuromuscular connection; it doesn’t always need to feel like its burning for it to be having seriously positive benefits!
Our philosophy is to progress things to more functional movement patterns where they have to rely on core strength and stability to complete movements with good technique and control.
A strong and stable core can improve optimal performance throughout the whole body and enable you move better, move more, and move longer, as well as preventing injuries!
If you want to train with me, you can book online here: https://informhealth.com/people/jacinta-brinsley/
If you want to read more of my blogs, click here: https://informhealth.com/author/jacinta-brinsley/
If you’re interested in doing yoga with me, click here: http://bit.ly/iwanttodoyoga
About the Author
Do you sometimes feel tight or stuck in particular parts of your body? Perhaps from being in a certain posture for too long? I have five gentle yoga postures for you (and they’re even based on scientific research).
What a pain in the… back!
In a world where we spend so much of our time seated at a desk. or in the car. or on the couch… it’s no wonder most of us experience some kind of non-specific musculoskeletal pain at some point. As an exercise physiologist, I hear a lot of complaints about back pain, and more specifically, lower back pain… and I’m going to talk about this in a blog all of its own next month; keep your eyes peeled for ‘Low back pain is a tug-of-war between your abs and hamstrings’!
Why do I get back pain?
The short of it is this: when we’re sitting down, the muscles at the front of our body are in a shortened position, whilst the muscles on the back of our body are typically in a lengthened position. Our bodies are really, really smart organisms that want to adapt to make our life easier. So if we sit for 8-9 hours a day, then our body is going to adapt to this shape by adding adhesion to the muscles around our hips and chest, and it’s going to ‘tune-out’ from the muscles on our back body, since we don’t really activate these much *cough, glutes*.
Solution 1 – Increasing neuromuscular connection
By waking up some of these ‘sleeping’ muscles, we increase our brains ability to communicate with that muscle and it’s surrounding muscles so that we can utilize them for movement. A great example of this is our glutes. As I hinted at above, many of us sit on our bum all day long and as a result of this we actually really struggle to consciously activate and squeeze our glutes on our own command. Try it now, lay down on your back and see if you can squeeze your glutes one at a time! (and you’re not allowed to let your hamstrings switch on!). It’s really hard for the majority of people! Our glutes should be the biggest and strongest muscles on our body, these guys are really important and their main job is to stabilise our pelvis, which gives rise to our spine – and that’s a pretty important structure! If we can’t recruit our glutes then other muscles have to do the work that they should be doing, and this is how and why we often get tightness in our back.
If glutes don’t work, then these muscles here (see below) do the brunt of the work when we’re walking, stabilising, leaning, running, reaching, bending over, standing up, climbing the stairs etc.
Solution 2 – lengthening the myofascia
Just as importantly, we need to lengthen the muscles, and more importantly the fascia that are have adapted to be short, tight, and a bit sticky from our lifestyle of habitual sitting. This is where these yoga postures will come in handy! I recently read a research article about a yoga study that showed 96% of people in the yoga group experienced significant reductions in musculoskeletal pain (compared to 36% in the control group) with just a single session of five yoga poses! This builds on existing evidence that regularly attending yoga may improve pain and reduce pain medication usage. So below is a short, evidence-based yoga program that absolutely anyone can do at home to help ease back pain or discomfort!
Aim to hold each posture for about 4-5 minutes. When you’re setting yourself up, you don’t want to go past 60% stretch; this is important as if we go past this point we typically start to see the central nervous systems automatic response to protect our muscles and joints kick in and the muscle will actually be holding on to protect you! So a gentle, light sensation is okay – but nothing strenuous. And lastly, try to pay attention to your breath – particularly noticing the length of your inhale and the length of your exhale and trying to make them smooth, steady and even – this helps put our nervous system at ease and will allow the tissue (muscle and fascia) to ‘soften’ a bit more.
Forward fold, foot to thigh
Great for the hamstrings, the glutes, the fascia that all our back muscles insert into across our sacrum and our adductors (inner thigh muscles). You can use a pillow, a rolled up blanket, or anything really to support your forehead so the stretch isn’t too intense.
Half pigeon pose
This accesses the hip flexors of the leg behind you, if you can, play with gentley engaging the glute and seeing how that changes the sensations at the front of the hip. Chest can stay up, or you can fold forwards onto a pillow. Note: the knee should be out wider than your hips, and if this doesn’t feel great in your knees – don’t do it.
Bound angle pose
This is a favourite. Feet together, knees out wide. Hands can be out like cactus arms, on your belly, or above your head – whatever feels good for you! If it’s too intense, pop a rolled up towel under each knee.
Make sure your knees are relatively even (the top knee will try to crawl back), and then twist from above your navel. It doesn’t matter if both shoulders aren’t on the ground, as you relax into the pose they may head in that direction. Your arm can be outstretched or you can pop the hand behind the head.
Legs up wall
This can be done with or without props. Definitely recommend elevating the hips either on a yoga block or on a rolled up blanket. Arms out (as pictured) is a nice way to open up the fascia in the chest area. If it feels like a struggle to keep your legs up, you can pop a belt/strap around them… and then relax into this juicy pose.
Now let’s be honest, there’s definitely more than 2 solutions. There’s probably hundreds! But increasing your bodies neuromuscular connections, and lengthening out the myofascia that surrounds our muscles can only be a great place to start! Your body is unique, and your discomfort and pain is unique to you, so if you experience back pain and it doesn’t want to go away, or if you’ve nailed the first two steps in this blog and now you’re ready to start loading up the musculoskeletal system to get nice and strong (the ultimate pain preventative); it might be time to see one our Exercise Physiologists.
What should you do now?
- Check in with your glutes daily. Once that’s easy, it’s time to challenge them with some load.
- Do these five yoga poses at the start and/or end of each day, and see what differences you notice
- Set little reminders throughout the day to get up, sit up straight, elongate your spine, pull your shoulders back, squeeze your glutes, stretch, or whatever works for you!
If you would like to join our Clinical Yoga classes, you can click the link below and we’ll contact you with more information shortly!
About The Author
Yoga is an ancient and complex practice, rooted in Indian philosophy, that originated several thousand years ago. Yoga began as a spiritual practice, as a way of reaching enlightenment, but in Western culture it has become popular as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.
Although classical yoga also includes other elements, yoga as practiced in the West typically emphasizes physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dyana). Popular yoga styles such as hatha, iyengar, bikram, and vinyasa yoga focus on these elements. Several traditional yoga styles encourage daily practice with periodic days of rest, whereas others encourage individuals to develop schedules that fit their needs.
What do we know about the effectiveness of yoga?
- National survey results from 2012 show that many people who practice yoga believe that it improves their general well-being, and there is beginning to be evidence that it actually may help with certain aspects of wellness including stress management, positive aspects of mental health, promoting healthy eating and physical activity habits
- Yoga may help relieve low-back pain and neck pain
- There’s promising evidence that yoga may help people with some chronic diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life
- Yoga may help people with diabetes control their blood sugar
- Growing evidence indicates that yoga may help women manage both physical and psychological symptoms of menopause
- Yoga may be helpful for anxiety or depressive symptoms associated with difficult life situations
- Yoga may help people to manage sleep problems
- Yoga may be helpful for people who are trying to quit smoking
- Yoga-based interventions may help overweight/obese people lose weight
What do we know about the safety of yoga?
Yoga is generally considered a safe form of physical activity when performed properly, under the guidance of a qualified instructor. Serious injuries are rare, however, as with other types of physical activity, injuries can occur. (One of our honours students, Zoe Toland, is currently working with one of our EPs, to investigate the most common forms of yoga injuries as reported by physiotherapists, yoga teachers and yoga practitioners – we’ll keep you updated with the results!).
The most important thing to remember, as with any exercise, is to listen to the feedback your body gives you and modify and adjust what you’re doing accordingly. We want to push ourselves, and whilst feeling some level of discomfort is okay (think muscle burn and high level of challenge), but pain is our bodies way of saying ‘probably best to not do this’.
People with certain health conditions, older adults, and pregnant women may need to avoid or modify some yoga poses and practices. These individuals should discuss their specific needs with their health care professional/yoga instructor and may be better suited to more clinical yoga classes.
What happens in a yoga class?
Sometimes the biggest thing that stops us from trying something new is not knowing what to expect and fearing we’ll be the awkward newbie! So let’s go through what you can expect from a yoga class (or at least ours!)
- Yoga mats and all the props you will need (a block, a strap, a bolster, a towel) are provided, but you can always bring your own if you would prefer!
- The teacher will introduce themselves and talk about what the focus of the class will be; this could be a range of things from a certain postural focus, or an attention focus, or it could be a focus on the pace of movement
- Classes start with slow, controlled, warm-up type movements and typically move into some more challenging series of movements; you can expect challenges that target strength, balance, range of motion, focus, stability, control and your attitude toward the practice
What you won’t get…
- Spiritual-talk. We’re not dissing the spiritual talk, but we prefer to focus on your physical and mental alignment in class
- Chanting. We get it, it feels a bit weird.
- Basically, anything that’s not evidence-based within the scientific literature, won’t be included in our classes (e.g., chakras, lifestyle choices)
How often should I practice yoga?
The recommended frequency and duration of yoga sessions varies depending on the condition being treated. In general, studies examining yoga have included weekly or twice weekly 60- to 90-minute classes. For some studies, classes are shorter, but there are more classes per week. So whilst the research evidence is inconclusive, we think that any form of exercise that is challenging strength through range of motion, and providing you with a form of mindfulness is a great addition to your weekly activities!
Our recommendation: as much or as little as suits your body’s needs and fits in with your weekly schedule.
iNform’s NEW Clinical Yoga Classes!
We are super excited to be launching clinical yoga classes at the end of May, at our new Malvern clinic! Classes will run on Thursday mornings and evenings, for a duration of 45 minutes and will be run by our Exercise Physiologist and Yoga Teacher: Jacinta Brinsley. Jacinta is also completing a PhD in the area of yoga and mental health/mental illness.
If you have any questions, want further information, or want to book in for a yoga class – fill out this form
About the Author
What makes YOU exercise? (Other than your trainer)
We all know that exercise is good for us. Some of us exercise for particular reasons and to get certain benefits over others. Whilst some of us exercise with goals in mind like running a half marathon or just being able to pick up our grandkids. Or it might just be that this our time for ourselves each week. Whatever the reason you exercise, and whatever form of exercise you do, for whatever amount of time you do it for; I pat you on the back for the fact that you do it!
The World Health Organisation has released some fresh data last week showing almost one third (30.4%) of Australians aren’t getting enough exercise. Out of 168 countries, we ranked 97th for the % of population being sufficiently active. Which is scary considering physical inactivity is so highly associated with chronic health problems.
Just one type of exercise we do: Resistance Training (aka strength training or weight training)
This is what most clients at iNform typically spend the majority of their session doing. It can look like anything from body weighted strength, focusing on alignment and control, to lifting very heavy weights only a handful of times. The person that hasn’t broken a sweat all session, and the person that is drenched in sweat at the end of the session – have both engaged in strength training. It looks completely different for everyone. That’s the beautiful thing about strength training, it can be adapted and individualised just for you and your body’s specific needs.
For those who are reading this that are regulars at iNform, you will know better than anyone the effects that training with us has. Hopefully from brightening your mood and giving you a giggle, to helping increase your body awareness, getting you stronger and facilitating better movement throughout life’s activities. But for those who maybe don’t know all of the amazing benefits that strength training alone can have on your body; I have made a nerdy little list below. Please feel free to share this with your friends and family members who maybe aren’t quite convinced on exercise, there’s something in here for everyone!
Your 30 minute session at iNform…
- Improve focus
- Improve cognitive function
- Decrease anxiety
- Decrease depressive symptoms
- Improve feelings of well-being
- Increases self-esteem
- Decreases risk of dementia
- Decrease markers of inflammation (particularly in people who are overweight)
- Decrease cholesterol
- Decrease blood pressure
- Improve insulin-swings for those with type 2 diabetes
- Improves insulin-sensitivity
- Boosts metabolic rate
- Reverse ageing factors in mitochondria and muscles
- Increases bone mineral density (and prevents bone loss)
- Increases muscle mass
- Improves movement control
- Reduces chronic lower back pain
- Reduces arthritic pain
- Reduces pain from fibromyalgia
And I guarantee I have left some benefits out.
How can you get all these benefits, plus more? (we didn’t even look at the benefits of aerobic exercise!)
If you would like to start getting more out of your resistance training sessions, or if you’re wanting to start resistance training but you have some niggles that bother you, I recommend getting in touch with one of our amazing movement specialists who can help find the right exercises for you!
If you would like more information on particular benefits and which study I sourced it from, feel free to email me at: [email protected]
About the Author
It’s natural and normal to feel depressed at times, particularly and especially when, life throws you a curve ball. Whether it’s the ending of a relationship, a death in the family, the loss of a job, or even just adjusting to different circumstances. Depression is a mood state, just like happy, excited or sad. Across the spectrum of symptoms, there are distinctly different types of depression. From not being able to eat or sleep, to eating too much and feeling too fatigued to even get out of bed. If depression was a colour it would come in all shades, in all colours.
Exercise and Depression: Nature’s Anti-depressant
A recent meta-analysis found that engaging in physical activity could reduce your chances of developing depression by 17%. We also know that typically exercise has a large effect on reducing symptoms of depression, and this includes activities like resistance training, yoga, bouldering (rock climbing), cycling, swimming and running. A well known study done in 1999 at Duke University even concluded that exercise was as effective as medication in relieving symptoms of depression!
Luckily exercise and physical activity also comes in a full spectrum of colours, too. From walking to work in the morning, or going for a run in your lunch break, to signing up for a yoga class or going to a boxing session with a mate. There is a type of exercise for everyone, and every type of exercise can be adapted to the intensity which you like best! You can exercise alone, or with a friend, or with a bunch of strangers. You can exercise indoors or outdoors. You can literally make it whatever you want!
I say all of this because I think the words ‘exercise’ or ‘physical activity’ bring to mind images of stereotypical types of exercise, like being in a gym or being outside running, which can put a lot of people off straight away. A better term to use would be movement. And our bodies were made to move, our physiology and particularly our neurophysiology (our brain) NEEDS us to move in order for us to feel good. (If you want to read more about this, read my stress blog).
Working Out Depression
Are you sure exercise is going to make me feel better…? (Yep!)
Exercise releases endorphins (anti-stress hormones), 40 types of them to be exact. One of the effects these have is that they calm the brain and relieve muscle pain during strenuous exercise (hence why Superman can lift cars up!). Exercise also regulates all of the same neurotransmitters targeted by antidepressants.
For starters, it immediately elevates norepinephrine, waking up the brain and getting it going. As well as improving self-esteem, which is one component of depression. Exercise boosts dopamine, which improves mood and feelings of wellness, and jump-starts the attention system. Dopamine is important because it is all about driving motivation and attention, that’s why they say getting started is the hardest part!
Exercise also increases BDNF which protects neurons against cortisol in areas that control mood, including the hippocampus. It encourages neurons to connect and grow, and it vital for neuroplasticity and neurogenesis (keeping our brain young and adaptable)!
In addition to feeling good when you exercise, you feel good about yourself, and that has a positive effect that can’t be traced to a particular chemical or area in the brain. We know that norepinephrine and serotonin, which are both boosted with exercise, act on the limbic system (the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus) which is responsible for things like how we perceive and regulate our emotions. Even small doses of exercises are effective at improving peoples quality of life and psychosocial functioning.
The best exercises for reducing/preventing depressive symptoms are:
A recent study suggests that exercising between 3 and 5 times a week for 30-60 minutes is associated with better mental health, and team sports, cycling, aerobic and gym exercise came in at the top for types of exercise associated with better mental health.
Resistance training has also shown to have a large impact on reducing depressive symptoms, particularly when supervised by a health professional and lasting shorter than 45 minutes. You can read more on this in James’ blogs here and here.
If you’ve been feeling down and you start to exercise and feel better, the sense that you’re going to be OK and that you can count on yourself shifts your entire attitude. The stability of the routine alone can dramatically improve mood. So next time you feel flat do the smart thing, the thing that future you will appreciate, and move your body (even if it’s just out of the house!). And if motivation or accountability is the issue, why not train with an Exercise Physiologist or another qualified health professional?
Exercise is not an instant cure, but if you move your body your mood basically won’t have a choice!
- It’s important to keep expectations reasonable
- Exercise outside, or in an environment that stimulates your senses
- Exercise with somebody
- Something is better than nothing!
- Try to form an exercise routine – this adds to feelings of stability
About the Author