What are the core muscles?
Your body’s “core” is made up of various muscles that surround and support the lower trunk and connect the pelvis to the ribs. These muscles stabilize the spine, helping it to keep its position, and create a solid base of support for movement.
- Transversus abdominis
This is the deepest internal abdominal muscle that wraps round the lower trunk for protection and stability. It is activated by pulling the navel towards the spine in a move called “abdominal hollowing”. This muscle almost always acts first to help stabilize the spine before any muscular exertion, and is therefore known as the primary stabilizer of the lower back. Make sure it is well conditioned to avoid any muscle weakness in your inner core.
- Internal and external obliques
These are located on the side and front of the abdomen, running in opposite directions to each other.
- Rectus abdominis
This muscle is located along the front of the abdomen and can be visible as the “six pack”.
The most important muscle for breathing, it provides important core stability during moving and lifting.
- Multifidus muscle
This muscle runs from one vertebra to another along the spine and supports the spine, together with the erector spinae.
This illustration from the above mentioned sources shows the primary core muscles, to which I have added the classic location of the “(three) Dantiens”.
Dantien (丹田, Tantien) – In Taoist terminology, there are three major energy centers, one located above the bridge of the nose and the yintang point (upper dantien), one located in the center of the chest (middle dantien), and another located about 1 1/2″ below the navel at the qihai point (in front of the lower dantien). All are centered within the body and if someone uses the term dantien without specifying its location, it usually means the lower dantien. A synonym for the lower dantien is the lower elixir field.
Why is core stability important?
The core muscles act as a bridge, a solid foundation between the arms and legs, making it possible for us to stand upright, move on two feet and produce smooth movement. They protect the back and distribute the stresses of bearing our weight.
Improved core stability achieves the following goals:
- Good muscle control around the lower spine, provided by the abdominal and back muscles, allows us to maintain stability while moving in any direction or shifting body weight.
- Strong core muscles enable the lower spine and the pelvic-hip region to remain stable and to regain balance after it has been disrupted.
People who have a strong core suffer from fewer postural problems and run a lower risk of injury and back pain. Therefore, strengthening this band of muscle is crucial!
Exercises to strengthen the core
The core muscles can be strengthened by performing exercises on unstable rather than stable surfaces, or by doing the exercises while standing rather than seated. Performing exercises lying on your side is also helpful. In each instance, because of the instability created, the core muscles are activated or recruited; whereas if one’s body was in a stable position, the core muscles might not be called into action as much.
There are three major groups of core stability exercises
- Exercises to strengthen the small, deep lying stabilizing muscles, including the lower abdominal and deep spinal muscles
- Static body weight exercises to develop stability and improve endurance in certain postures
- Dynamic strength exercises for the main movement muscles of the trunk.
Equipment needed to strengthen core muscles
Using your own body weight as resistance is often enough to strengthen the core muscles.
- Supermen – position yourself on all fours, lifting and holding alternate arms and legs
- Side bridges – lie on your side, with your weight on your elbow (ie head and shoulder raised). Now lift your upper body up (as if you are doing a side press-up). Hold this extended press-up position, with one hand on the ground.
The tendency in core stability training is to use free weights rather than machines. You can also make use of medicine balls, Swiss balls, dumbbells, wobble boards or pezzi balls, since all of these create “instability” which your body tries to address by activating the core muscles.
Technique is important to get the right effect
Note that technique is all important! In particular, isolating the exact muscles is essential for obtaining the proper training effect. If the entire stomach area is tensed up, the stability muscles do not strengthen optimally.
In fact, research shows that for the best effect, the core muscles must be tensed only up to about 25% to 30% of their maximum capacity. More tension than this, when performing core stability exercises, serves no useful purpose.
- Palastanga et al. (1994). Anatomy of human movement. Butterworth Heinemann: Oxford.
- Zatsiorski (1994). Science and practice of strength training. (1994). Human Kinetics: Champaign IL.
To summarize, both systems are training the human body. They use different language and slightly different techniques. It is obvious to me Asian arts train the core muscles of the body. A major difference is the importance placed on the “Dantien” an area located in the lower abdomen and where all movement must originate. There is (currently) no known organ or anatomically unique place in the lower abdomen to equate with the “Dantien”. The importance placed on this area may be an oblique reference to a centre of gravity. In the Chen Family Taijiquan system there is considerable emphasis on keeping the body in a state of relaxation or “sung” which can be translated as “loose” and the avoidance of local muscle tension. Deliberate use of spiraling lines of movement thru the body help to reinforce the core body strength as it is extended along the arms, legs and trunk. These are accomplished by relaxing muscle groups sequentially.
Standing Gongs and Core Training share similar goals but from two totally opposite directions.
Martial ZZ and Health ZZ are two different things.
The 13 Points of
- Center of Gravity Force – Center of the feet
- Perineum pointing down to the balance beam line
- Dantien – Suction & Condense
- Mingmen – Project & Expand
- Crown – Suspended
- Sternum – Suction & Condense
- Qua – Maintain the energy on the center of the hips
- Drop shoulders over the hips
- Tucking of the ribs
- Nine solid & one empty on the feet
- Elbows always wrapping down
- Knee pointing to the toe
- Balance the body of Yin & Yang