Part 2: How Should the Inner Unit Function?
In part 1 we learned that the core serves a much greater purpose than just looking pretty. Your core wears many hats including protection, support, circulation and movement. We also learned that while support belts are an option, they are not effective. Lets take a closer look at how your Inner Unit should function
The TVA functions in a manner similar to a corset. It wraps around the abdominals attaching to the bony prominences of the lumbar spine via a large sheet of connective tissue (thoraco-lumbar fascia). It also attaches to the bottom of the ribcage and the top rim of the pelvis.
When the TVA contracts the thoraco-lumbar fascia tightens immediately increasing stability along both sides of the spine. At the same time the abdominal wall pulls inward from the front and sides towards the spine increasing intra-abdominal pressure. This increase in pressure presses down against the pelvic floor and up against the diaphragm. Imaging squeezing a tube of toothpaste from the middle. This vertical pressure also decompresses the lumbar spine. It literally creates space between the vertebra releasing pressure on the vertebral disks and the nerves.
Rather than buying a belt, build your own!!!!
Added benefit to this intra-abdominal pressure include:
- Improves posture by propping up the ribcage for support reducing, not preventing slouching, and reduces stress on the entire shoulder girdle and neck.
- The increased pelvic floor function reduces incontinence issues. If I recall correctly, roughly 40% of all female runners aged 40 have some degree of bladder issues when running. It appears that running itself does not improve core function.
As with a girdle, the deep abdominal wall (TVA) is the primary structure that allows for a flat stomach. The dreaded paunch belly is merely the side-effect of a dysfunctional abdominal wall. If left unchecked it develops into a much more severe condition visceroptosis (visceral = organs, ptosis (toe-sis) = drooping)
Visceroptosis is more common in females. In this severe condition the abdominal organs (the colon, intestines, liver and stomach) are no longer being properly supported and begin to droop. This puts additional pressure on the rest of the digestive tract and the underlying uterus and bladder. The result can include constipation which can cause the transverse colon to become enlarged and heavy with fecal matter, an increase in menstrual pain, incontinence and prostate-related problems to mention a few.
Trauma: Surgical procedures, including herniation repair, gallbladder or appendix surgery are sure-fire methods to alter muscle function. Anytime you cut into or through a muscle harm will be done. The only question is to what degree and what do you do about it. The most common procedure is the C-section. Consider that you are literally cutting through multiple layers of muscle, connective tissue, nerves and fascia. The best case scenario afterwards is to find a competent trainer or physical therapist that understands core function and can rehab the area while taking into account scar tissue, adhesions, etc. The most common visible symptom is the “pooch” or distention of the abdominals just below the belly button that does not respond to any common stomach exercises.
Unhappy Organs: Your internal organs and muscles use the same pain-sensitive nerve fibers. When an organ is in pain, the brain cannot determine if it is the muscle or the organ that hurts. The brain only knows which segment of the spine the pain message came from. Each area of the spine is associated to specific organ(s). The brain therefore tells all tissues and organs on that nerve pathway to behave like they are in pain. Pain always weakens muscles resulting in a loss of tone in the abdominals.
You may be thinking I am a little nuts. I may very well be, but not in this instance. Here are a few examples. When you have a heart attack, you don’t feel pain in the heart, rather the pain is on the left side of the chest and in the left arm. Many women experience back pain and sometimes down their legs during their menstrual period. It is also very common to suffer back pain when constipated and then find that a laxative or enema eliminates the pain.
Organs talk to muscles….we just need to learn how to listen
Back Pain: Nerves that innervate the joints of the spine are branches of the nerves that feed the muscles around the spine. Anything causing pain in the spine between the area below the sternum and the bottom of the spine can alter muscle function. In other words, any organ, gland, muscle or tissue that runs along a specific nerve path can be negatively affected by a disturbance at any organ, gland, muscle or tissue innervated by that nerve.
Diet / Lifestyle: Anything that causes inflammation of an internal organ that communicates through the nervous system and controls an abdominal muscle will cause the muscle to weaken and/or be unresponsive to exercise. What are the most common causes of inflammation to an organ?
- Consuming foods or fluid that you are either allergic to or intolerant / sensitive to (this can be tested, one such test is the MRT – Mediator Release Test)
- Chronic Stress which can be from physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, bio-chemical and environmental sources.
- Alcohol consumption
- Medical drugs
- Food additives, preservatives and colorings
- EMF (Electromagnetic Fields from consumer electronics)
- Irradiated foods and foods heated by microwave ovens from altered cells
Inappropriate Exercise…..Machines: Some of you may know where I am heading with this already. Outside of rehabbing from an injury or trauma and hardcore bodybuilders (even this is questionable), strength machines are a huge waste of time, energy, space and $$$. For those trying to lose that dreaded “paunch belly,” machines are most likely making it worse.
Your nervous system is very smart. To stabilize the spine, it does not want to do any more work than it has to activate the deep abdominal muscles. Your brain only activates the muscles in direct relation to the demand. When you are bolted to the floor, wearing a seatbelt and supported with any number of pads…how much stabilization do you need?
Strength machines challenge the muscles of the outer unit, the bigger muscles designed to move the body. The result is a massive recruitment of the big muscles with rather little or very low levels of the smaller stabilizer muscles that cross the working joints.
The result is that some muscles get stronger well out of proportion with the stabilizer system. While you may be able to leg press hundreds of pounds, you may not be able to perform properly a bodyweight squat for full range of motion.
The appearance of bigger muscles from using machines may provide a level of confidence, but it is often a false confidence that becomes obvious when you try to handle a heavy power tool, pick up a squirming child or do basic yard work such as gardening. In any example above it is not uncommon to get hurt because you can’t stabilize your spine or the extremity joints being used.
While the body has many neurological protocols to prevent such an injury, in many instances an unbalanced muscular system can still generate enough force in a short enough time that the nervous system cannot react quick enough. For this reason I strongly encourage you to stick to free weights and other forms of functional exercise. If you are not comfortable doing so, find a competent trainer or coach.
Hope you enjoyed this deeper investigation into your core. In part 3 we are going to touch briefly the Outer Unit and consider where you should start if you believe you have a dysfunctional core. As always, I appreciate any and all feedback along with questions.