When many people think about a strong core, they picture someone with “six pack abs”. But our functional core is actually much more complex than this over simpliﬁed notion, and whether your abdominals are super deﬁned and underwear model-worthy or not says nothing about how strong your core truly is.
Rectus abdominus, or “six-pack”, muscle is actually just the most superﬁcial (closest to the skin) of our four abdominal muscles. It runs vertically along the front of the abdomen and when it contracts, it pulls the rib cage and pelvis toward each other, usually resulting in a rounded spine (spinal ﬂexion) and/or a tucked pelvis (posterior tilt). These six-pack abs don’t actually offer any physiological benefits. Learning to wean ourselves off of the over-use of the six-pack muscle is therefore an essential step toward restoring balance in our body.
Our other three abdominals are deeper: the internal and external obliques run diagonally across the abdomen and are commonly thought of as muscles that rotate the torso. The transverse abdominus is our deepest abdominal of all, and when it contracts, it has a corset-like effect of compressing the entire abdomen inward.
What is “the core”?
Your abdominal muscles are actually not your core in itself. Your functional “core” is actually made up of all of the muscles which stabilize your spine as you move — also often referred to as your “core stabilizers.” Depending on your resource, this can mean up to 40 different muscles! The list includes:
- the multi-layered muscles of your spine
- your pelvic ﬂoor musculature
- your back muscles
- your psoas
- the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades
- your respiratory diaphragm.
These muscles keep your spine stable and protected as you twist, squat, climb, bend over, lift heavy objects, and generally move your way through life.
“Tucking the tailbone”
If the pelvis tucks, it uses only our six pack muscles and causes our low back to ﬂatten (hypolordosis)… these natural spinal curves are actually crucial to our spine’s optimal functioning (our built-in shock-absorbers). Thus, we want to preserve these natural curves and therefore the integrity of our structure by stabilizing our spine.
HOWEVER, there are some instances in which we do want to work a posterior pelvic tilt (aka. tuck). But the idea that we should tuck our pelvis indiscriminately throughout our yoga practice to create core stability is outdated and biomechanically incorrect.
hope this provides a better understanding of how our entire core works together to stabilize our spine. much love.