The Core

We've all heard the term "the core".  It is popularized by the media and every personal trainer in the world.  But what is the core?  You may imagine magazine worthy abs or have haunting memories of the guy in 8 min abs yelling to "keep it tight!"  Seriously, I spent 8 minutes of my life everyday after high school trying to herniate my vertebral discs thinking I was getting shredded.  Anyway, let me define the core and explain why it is such a hot topic.  I define the core as the musculoskeletal network between and including your diaphragm and your pelvic floor.  Specifically this includes your rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and obliques in the front, and quadratus lumborum, multifidus, rotatores, erector spinae, thoraclolumbar fascia in the back to name a few.  Instead of memorizing a bunch of Latin, I would rather you think of the core as a unit.  Picture a soda can.  Before you open the soda can it is pressurized.  The stiffening of your core spares your spine in a similar fashion.  To maximize this system and spare your back with the greatest efficiency you need to create a neutral spinal alignment first.  Align the top and bottom of the soda can (the diaphragm and pelvic floor) so that they are parallel.  Mimic the following picture by putting one thumb on your sternum and your other on your pubic bone.

With your hands splayed and palms down you should now have a better idea of where neutral is.  The goal is to get your hands perfectly parallel to each other.  If your hands move farther apart, you are overextended. If they move closer together you are flexed.  This trick will help you achieve neutral spinal alignment.  Now that you have set the top and bottom of the system we need to think about bracing the sides.  You may have heard of hollowing or sucking in, but this is not correct.  I want you to brace as if you knew you were about to be punched in the stomach by a 4 year old.  You're not bracing for Tyson but just enough to prevent that terrible caught off guard feeling.  We have now achieved neutral spinal alignment and braced your core.  

At Engineered Per4mance

Your spine is spared and ready for action, but you are also set up to transfer force with greatest efficiency through the system.  This means you can transfer force through your core and express greatest athleticism at your shoulders and hips.  As I mentioned in a previous blog,  the lab and workouts are for practicing perfect body mechanics and learning to generate maximum force and athleticism.  If you practice this position in the lab and achieve a braced neutral spinal position while doing pushups, pull-ups, hang cleans, squats, and deadlifting imagine what your position will look like by default when picking up your kid.  I have heard too many times from patients in excruciating back pain that they didn't do anything but pick up a sock or something so light that it could not have been what caused it.  And they are right!  That sock wasn't too heavy.  What caused it was the previous million times you picked up socks in a terrible position, without any thought of what the purpose of your core was, and allowed your spine to do all the motion.  Not fun, and completely avoidable!  At Engineered Per4mance we treat the acute pain with laser therapy, manipulation, rock tape application, and exercises to reverse what you have done,  but we also work to prevent future injury.  You will learn how to properly brace and mitigate future spinal faults.  You will be given exercises to teach you to brace and transfer force efficiently without sacrificing your spine.  

Knowing how to achieve neutral spinal alignment and bracing your core is vital but unfortunately it is not the whole story.  Many people lack the motor control, or timing of muscular contraction, to react and quickly achieve this position and stabilize their spine before they move.  This is a topic for a later blog and is the focus in a lot of our treatment at EP.  



  1. McGill, Stuart.  Low Back Disorders, 2nd Edition
  2. Starrett, Kelly.  Becoming a Supple Leopard.