Why a 6-pack Does Not Indicate a Stable Core

We all know that America is only getting more technologically advanced. Technology has advanced the human experience dramatically in terms of mental stimulation and intelligence. Physically the opposite is true, for the most part.

The sedentary lifestyle that has evolved is inevitable. Being in any position for a prolonged period of time forces adaptation to the position. One of life’s greatest gifts, adaptation, can also be a huge downfall for a human body. The process of adaptation usually only has efficiency in mind. This may be efficiency of mating, day-to-day operations, catching prey, survival, etc. Immediate efficiency does not take into account long term effects.

Technology has allowed for a more sedentary lifestyle. This has forced advantageous adaptations to facilitate this sedentary lifestyle. We are then very efficient at sitting at a desk, but then do not perform as well when we enter “Weekend Warrior” mode.

The adaptation that, in my opinion, caused this epidemic of low back pain is the lack of a stable core, and I’m not referring to a 6-pack. A sedentary lifestyle influences increased tone in the same muscles that act as accessory inspiratory muscles. These muscles include Pectoralis Major and Minor, Sternocleidomastoid, Serratus Anterior, and Scalenes. Because of the increased tone and neurological sensitivity to these muscles, they are much more active in inspiration at rest. If our secondary respiration muscles become dominate (because of adaptation) we do not have to rely on our primary inspiration muscles to handle its full load. This means less contraction of the diaphragm and intercostals. If we cannot get into full contraction of our diaphragm, we cannot create the necessary intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize our core. Let’s talk about what a stable core means:

Most of us do not have a stable core, not only because of this adaptation to our prolonged positions, but because we don’t know what a stable core means anymore. Like I said earlier, a stable core is not a six pack. A stable core looks more like a baby’s belly. Can you picture that cute gut hanging over the diaper? A baby is able to use descension of the diaphragm and eccentric tone of transversus abdominis and obliques to create intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize in a variety of positions. Ideal stabilization of your core should look more like the inflation of a balloon within your stomach. Rectus abdominis (our six pack muscles) and erectors (big muscles on either side of the spine running all the way up) on the other hand, only stabilizes us in the sagittal plane of motion, or front to back. If this compensation resides, we are then at a loss of stabilization in rotation, lateral flexion, and anywhere in between. Not only are we at a lack of stabilization with this compensation, we are in a strategy that increases compression on the lumbar spine, which means the discs and other associated joints.

Being able to stabilize the low back with use of intra-abdominal pressure allows us to create a sphere of stabilization. This allows us to not only use our limbs off of stability, but also transfer load from lower extremity to upper extremity. For this reason, creation of intra-abdominal pressure is massively important to weekend warriors and athletes alike.

Everyone hears about how important the core is to a healthy back and function. How many of you knew the correct way to stabilize your core? Let’s try a test. Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly button. Take a big, deep breath in. What did you notice? Want to know ideal? Ideally, the top hand should not move at all and the bottom hand should be moving out with each deep breath in. Being able to create intra-abdominal pressure is the key. Being able to do this during functional movements takes stress and abuse off of the low back by relieving the compensating structures.

If you want to exit low back pain, limit future risk of low back pain, or maximize potential, this is a great place to start.