Think of Your Core Like a Young Tree with Supports

I never ceases to amaze me how stronly some people hold on to ill-conceived notions.

For example, there are still people that believe the earth is flat.

Or that the end of days was May 21, 2011. (I hope they had a huge party on the 10th!)

Or that the best way to engage our core is by shrinking the midsection.

Ok, so maybe the last example  isn’t exactly in the same category as the first few but to those in this industry it should be pretty cut and dry. You don’t engage the core musculature by:

* sucking in the gut

* drawing the navel towards the spine

* creating a vacuum stomach

* or trying to activate a single core muscle such as the transverse abdominus

This is wrong on a number of levels. But maybe the easiest way to understand it and appreciate what I’m getting at is to use the following analogy.

This analogy is very similar to one used by Stuart McGill but I like the version we’re going to use more because it involves movement and change. A couple of things that are synonymous with health and life.

Anyways, so the way this analogy works is to imagine planting a young tree into the ground. This new tree doesn’t have much of a root system yet it has some height to it. And since the trunk is not yet at its full thickness it may not be able to support its own weight. Or at best it may get pulled out of alignment quite easily.

So to make sure this new tree grows straight and tall we will support it with some landscape ties.

Any 5 year would understand that the landscape ties are there to support the tree and prevent it from falling out of alignment.

And we would understand that the supports are there but not with high levels of tension but enough to get the job done.

Because sometimes there will be a need to give the tree a little extra support.

Ok, now quick question…if the wind was really blowing and bending this young tree back and forth all over the place, would you move the landscape ties in closer to the base of the tree?

In other words, if the landscape ties were each 2 feet from the tree, would you move the ties in a foot?

No, of course not.

This would take away at least 50% of the support the tree receives from the ties. As well it would the tree in jeopardy of  more damage as now the wind can move the tree that much more.

So let’s go back to the example of the engaging your core.

If you need to fire your core muscles would you:

A) want to suck in your gut, draw your navel to your spine and ‘decrease the distance from your support to your spine’?


B) want to maintain or increase the distance of your supports to your spine?

It should be a fairly simple question to answer.

But unfortunately many still use the wrong approach.

As a colleague told me recently:

* Never draw in

* Brace when necessary

* Breathe always

If you guys like the posts on core activation and musculature let me know in the comments section and I’ll put together some more content on this topic in the future.

In fact I’m currently working on an article ‘Who else wants Fat Abs and a Double Chin?’ that you’re going to love.

Have a great weekend.

Chris                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ‘always moving forward’



6 Responses to Think of Your Core Like a Young Tree with Supports

  1. Mike Sanborn says:

    Yes, great stuff. Thanks!

  2. Christine Brown says:

    The earth isn’t flat?

  3. Charlie says:

    Hi Chris,

    This is an interesting post as I have a tendency to have people concentrate on the “belly to spine” contraction of the Transverse abdominus.

    You are certainly right and it makes me think of power-lifter’s and there belts. During a deadlift or squat they are not pulling there stomach in away from the belt they are more contracting against it to increase tension/stability.

    To act as an apologist for myself, and likely others, I work a lot in rehab situations and with people who have a low level core strength and pelvic control, and often poor standing and sitting posture. Most typically I have seen a hyper lordotic posture so I encourage a slight pull of the navel to the spine with a slight posterior pelvic tilt to achieve a close to neutral lumbar curve.

    This is definitely an interesting post and I would say I am glad I read it as it made me think, which is never a bad thing.

    Take care Chris

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for the comments Charlie. You are right about the fact that it does depend on who our population is. Is it general fitness, athletic or rehab? Different cues and approaches may be necessary.

      Keep commenting.


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