Updated: May 5, 2022
If I asked you where most movement originates from, what would you say? Maybe you looked at the title of this post and correctly guessed the core. If so, then good work, detective. So you are feeling smart now, let me ask you this question: what is the core?
If you are like most people you are probably flexing your abs right now saying, “I got a core for you right here, buddy.” Well, you would be wrong. We often make the mistake of thinking that your core is just your abs, specifically your rectus abdominis. We look at someone like the person pictured below and think, “that is one strong core.”
The truth is, that is not your entire core. We think about the core being important for movement, right? Try flexing your abs as hard as you can and then do an athletic movement like swinging a bat or throwing a pitch. It probably didn’t feel very easy to make the movement, did it? The problem with this exercise is two-fold: the rectus abdominis is not the entire core and also we shouldn’t be squeezing any muscle as hard as we can to be athletic.
Let’s tackle the first point: what muscles make up your core. Check out the picture below of a whole bunch of muscles that contribute to your core.
Honestly this is just the upper front half of your “core.” It neglects a lot of muscles, such as your lower back half of your core seen below.
Look at all of those muscles that run up into your pelvis. We have hamstrings, adductors (groin muscles), glutes, and a whole lot of other stuff. So now we can better understand why core training doesn’t necessarily involve a whole bunch of sit-ups.
To emphasize the importance of the core and pelvis let’s use another example. Stand up and touch your feet with your legs straight. Next, arch your back by sticking your stomach forward or sticking your butt out (think Instagram model). Now maintain that position and try to touch your toes. It is probably a lot harder to bend over now because of two reasons: your hamstrings are already stretched and your pelvis is in an anteriorly-tilted position. Now imagine trying to run, but without having full hamstrings flexibility.
All of a sudden, you cannot stride as far and more stress goes through your back and hamstrings. Let’s say you pull your hamstrings and keep stretching it to prevent it from happening again. However, despite your best efforts, you cannot gain any flexibility. You are missing the origin of your hamstrings: your pelvis. If you are stuck anteriorly-tilted (like an Instagram model) then you will never have good hamstrings flexibility. For those of you who are baseball players, think about pitching — how can you get in this position if your pelvis does not allow you to move correctly:
Hitting also requires pretty good hamstrings mobility:
If you cannot straighten your leg without discomfort, then how are you going to get to the above positions?
So what can we do about this problem?
First, you need to train yourself to find a more neutral pelvic position. You need to feel both extreme ranges of motion and settle somewhere in the middle. Ideally, you will be slightly biased towards a posterior pelvic tilt (bringing your back pockets towards your feet) as shown below:
The reason we want to create this position is that it will align the two diaphragms in our body: the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms.
If we remember an earlier post where I discussed how the human body is mostly water, the importance of aligning the diaphragms makes sense. If you have a severe anteriorly-tilted pelvis, all of the water slides forward. Think about trying to rotate quickly (as if you were hitting or pitching) if you held a water bag in front of you. It would be hard to move and have any sort of power. Your core muscles would be working to hold you in place and they have no chance to help with rotation or other movements.
So how do you best use your core to create power or stability with exercise? Trying to maintain a vertically aligned position with as much muscle relaxation as possible. That means keeping a slight posterior pelvic tilt with minimal ab tension. A stable base like this allows for the most movement possible. Eric Cressey uses the phrase “you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe” and this is very true here. If your pelvis is not in a stable position, then it is very difficult to create force in your arms or legs.
Stay tuned for some more exercises and ways to maintain a better pelvic and core position! I will be posting some ideas on my Instagram.
Are you in Northern Virginia and interested in working with me for physical therapy, injury prevention, or performance enhancement? Email me at email@example.com and let's help you reach your goals!
Written by Danny Lehnert PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CDN, BRM