This is an article written by a student of mine who is both a pediatrician and karate black belt. In it, Dr. Mostaghasi describes how the human body moves, from an early age to adulthood, and the fundamental characteristics and structure of our core muscles.
MOVING THROUGH CORE ENGAGEMENT
TARANEH MOSTAGHASI, MD
SHODAN ESSAY, NOVEMBER 2021
We have seen the phrase “engage your core”, but have you wondered what is meant by it?
The core consists of muscles surrounding the trunk, transverse abdominals, obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, trunk extensors, and hip flexors.
Core muscles and paraspinal muscles provide stability to the trunk for balance, torso mobility, lifting, among other daily activities. Engaging your core muscles means contracting trunk muscles to provide support for the trunk during static and dynamic movements. Furthermore, a strong core helps decrease the risk of injury and support during forceful movements. Your core is the basis of your movement. Strong core benefits athletic ability, flexibility, and overall strength.
The core foundation is pelvic floor muscles. these muscles help with the stabilization of the pelvis, so the body has a pivot to turn around in different directions. The pelvic bone is inserted into many muscles from the lower extremity, but more importantly, hip flexors and extensors are connected to the pelvis bone. Rostrally the muscles that are more commonly known as “core” like rectus abdominals and oblique muscles make those connections and they go up to the bottom of the ribcage and the back to connect to the lumbar spine. On the back gluteus muscle groups work with the lumborum quadratus and the series of paraspinal muscles to keep the back of the core stable and help with movements that are created between the thorax and pelvis. On the top is the diaphragm. This muscle is extremely important as it gives stabilization to the top of the core, supports visceral organs, and helps with breathing which is another pillar of core usage. To engage the core effectively, one should brace and tighten core muscles to keep the spine safe and stable. Imagine everything from ribcage to Pelvis. It should feel like a Cylinder.
For centuries, many martial art disciplines have focused on breath as a key component of health and performance. It is interesting to see that in the modern era people have somewhat forgotten to breathe and to integrate breathing into daily movements. From a practical standpoint, breathing refers to the natural matching of inhalation/exhalation with extension/flexion of the spine and body. Extension facilitates inhalation, while flexion facilitates exhalation. As the body gets compressed (flexed)exhalation dissipates the pressure and extension assist in opening the thoracic area for inhalation. In addition, breathing can be used during stretching whereas exhalation is used in relaxation. Additionally, the diaphragm is a principal muscle that helps with breathing is also a part of the core and activates core muscles with its activation during exhalation. To make a simple movement on limbs we need core and paraspinal muscles to stabilize the spine and pelvis.
More complicated multiplanar movements would require controlled movements of the spine to move the origin of the limb while making enough stabilization to have a limb move around the spine that is moving but in a controlled fashion, so it is still stabilizing the limb.
Humans learn these movements by starting to rotate around age 4 months old and then they learn how to sit at age of 7 months. The movements are simpler and require rotation of the spine around itself by controlled use of abdominals and use static stabilization of spine erectors and core activation in pelvis muscles and abdominals. The next step is “pull to stand” into a stable stand that we learn around 9 months. This achievement would require stabilization of hip extensors and flexors around a stabilized core. So, to move or stabilize a limb we need a stabilized core. Walking is a complex movement that would require periodical activation of hip flexors and extensors around a stabilized pelvis.
Any movement has a power that is generated from the rotation of a limb around its origins where it reaches the torso. However, this power is much more if the actual origin of the limb moves. For instance, if a fighter just raises the leg, it generates a small amount of power but if this same raise is accompanied by a movement of limb origin for instance through a rotation of pelvis the forward energy and destructive effect is much more. This is only achievable through a synchronized and targeted torso movement that requires core integration and control while stabilizing the limb to move.
For effective movement, one needs effective core integration. By doing so, the practitioner can efficiently learn how movement can flow to provide effective and precise fluid movement.
As far as any athletic field particularly martial art is concerned almost always the movements are multiplanar and complex so a controlled movement of the core will generate the most effective results for whatever the goal of the movement is. For this reason, the strength of the core and the muscles that attach the limbs to the core become important in providing efficiency and fluidity of the movement as well as its precision.
Any complex movement starts with a stabilized foundation that is the pelvic floor. Many different movements including spine flexion, extension, and rotation can occur as well as pelvis bone multiplanar rotations on this stabilized foundation will bring the limb origin to where it needs to be. To have more strong movement we utilize our breathing appropriate inhalation and exhalation as well as controlled diaphragm constriction to have appropriate intrathoracic and intraabdominal volumes to help with movement. Lastly, our core gives a stable base to limb movers to move the limbs as expected for the appropriate limb placement to achieve the general movement goals.
In practicing forms the muscle memory that is generated and practiced over years is extremely important so the body can move efficiently to a place. This makes it so important that an athlete uses their core during regular practices otherwise those muscles are not developed and not strong enough and will not show the required precision to achieve movements goals for instance in a fight, race, or demonstration.
Even though we always benefit from replicating and practicing our complex movement patterns for any athletic field, we still benefit from isolating exercises. For core muscles, pelvic tucks, bridges, and planks as well as pushups, pulls ups and squats are recommended as more simple isolating movements.
In summary, the core is the center of all movements. Core muscles are an integral part of precise and fluid movements. The core muscles allow for rotation, torso stabilization, balance, and posture control. By activating the core, one can move more effectively and efficiently and keep the body stable as one unit.