The core is a much misunderstood group of muscles and often gym goers only focus on the more superficial abdominals by just doing loads of crunches which eventually leads to all sorts of postural complications and spinal problems. A more detailed understanding of how the core actually works can help to create a more effective core conditioning programme that targets each and every part of the group of muscles. The core can be broken down into layers; the Transverse Abdominis (TVA) is the deepest of the layers and is integral in the stabilisation of the spine, ribcage and pelvis whilst shielding the internal organs and studies show that the TVA is often the first muscle to activate during nearly all dynamic movements within sport, gym training or day to day activities - it should be the hub of all movement. Learning how to a correctly ‘fire up’ the TVA can not only help to stabilise and protect the spine but also lead to improved force generation by the limbs and of course create an aesthetically pleasing ‘flatter’ abdomen.
Here is the basic ‘Horse Stance’ which is a great basic exercise to work the core and in particular the TVA. The Horse Stance, when performed correctly with good spinal alignment, strengthens the TVA and supports the spine thus improving posture. The TVA is the connecting muscle between the upper and lower body, left and right sides and the anterior (front) and posterior (back) slings (chains of muscles) of the body, creating a strong fulcrum or hinge from which the limbs move thus improving overall strength and performance, provide stability and reduce wear and tear in the spine.
Horse Stance Position:
Get down into an all fours position; knees directly below your hips, hands directly below your shoulders.
Slightly bend your elbows so that your shoulders are as high as your hips. Your shoulders should be slightly retracted and depressed.
The elbows should always be pointing back towards your knees, not flared out. This places the head of your shoulder (humerus) in a protected physiological position and this alone can be used as an effective rehab exercise for your shoulders.
- Place a broom stick or dowel rod along your spine. To create a neutral spinal alignment it should only be touching three points on your body: your sacrum (the bony area right below your spine), in the valley in between your shoulder blades (thoracic spine), and the back of your head. You should be able to just barely fit your fingers between your lumbar spine (low back) and the broom without it moving or rolling off.
The Exercise Itself:
Tighten your core by gently (40-50%) drawing your belly button inward toward your spine and do not allow your spine to move. Keep the spine in a neutral position - there should not be an increase or loss of the lumbar (lower back) curve.
Lift your right hand and your left knee about an inch off the ground. There should not be any rotation happening in the trunk or lateral sway from the hips.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds or for a long exhale and then repeat on the other side, breathing back in as you relax the arm and leg back to the ground.