The Ab Muscles that Matter: How to Strengthen Your Core

By Jennifer Dixon MBA ERYT 500

In the last post, I talked about the importance of integrating the upper and lower extremities of the body (via the abdominal muscles).  I mentioned how, when you have a strong “core” you can do all sorts of fun and fancy yoga poses –which are NOT necessary, but let’s face it, everyone wants a cool pic on the ole IG. (that’s Instagram for people like me that are still learning the Social Media stuff.)  

Yes, Strong Abdominal muscles will help you get to some great yoga poses, but the COOLEST part about strong abs is that they are actually quite functional!  

Yes, I get it, my definition of “cool” is probably WAAAAAY off what most people’s definition.

Having a strong core, or abdominal muscles can help you to stand up straight, walk easier, breathe better, and have less back pain.  Did you know the muscles that help with incontinence issues (the pelvic floor) are also an important part of the “core” muscles? Seriously, these muscles are so cool!  That’s because these super important muscles are responsible for supporting your spine (among other things like your internal organs), which is supporting our whole body.  (Yes, I know this is a super simplistic view of the human body, but it’s much easier to understand these sorts of concepts on a big picture level than it is when you get into the smaller details.)  

The human body is amazing.  It WANTS to work. It LIKES to work (unlike what I may exclaim after a really long hard day of work when I’m exhausted.)  Your body actually wants to be well, strong, and healthy (this could lead to a LOT of blog posts). HOWEVER, the human body can also be amazing at efficiency.  Just like you and me in our daily lives, we want convenience, quick, ease…Life requires entirely too much of us at any given moment, so I want my drive through dinner darn it I don’t want to cook!  Well, as you know, too many children’s meals or super value burger packs = a whole lot of health issues.

The same goes for our bodies. If we go for ease or convenience physically, our bodies can and do suffer.

Since this is a post about strengthening the core muscles to help the back, let me tie all this together by telling you a story.

You know I have a hurt back.  It’s a herniated disc in my L5. (that’s low back).  If you look at the way I naturally stand and then if you knew I used to love to do things like run and lift super heavy weights, you probably are like, no freaking kidding she got a herniated disc!  That’s because, in order to stand up straight, I have to engage the deep core muscles, and since I didn’t do that regularly before yoga, the low back curve, or swayback, is really prevalent. This way back may look good in jeans but it’s horrible for setting up the body to have low back pain because it puts so much pressure there in the lumbar region without a whole lot of attention to abdominal muscles.

So, when I hurt my back, my whole life changed.  I couldn’t move without pain. (so I stopped moving to avoid pain.)  Coming from a very active person, that was traumatic to say the least.  The problem was, no movement didn’t really alleviate pain. In fact, there was a recent NPR article that talked about how conventional methods of treating back pain through rest, relaxation, etc aren’t actually helping the problem.   

That’s why I went looking for something else.  When I found yoga, I found TREMENDOUS relief, naturally, through the movements and exercises found in most movement based yoga classes.  Here’s the thing, I still had/have the injury. My disc didn’t magically smush back into the right space.

That means, without proper attention to abdominal exercise and strength, the pain can (and does) come back.  This is the biggest reason why I am forever singing the praises and importance of abdominal exercises.  

Check out this Video I did that breaks down some ab drills that you can do to help really target the “Ab Muscles that matter.”  Let me know what you think about these exercises. I promise you, if you start a daily abdominal exercise practice, you will see a difference.  Maybe you won’t get the coveted six-pack abs, but what you will get is AMAZING spinal support, and tremendous reduction in pressure (and, dare I say, PAIN?) in the low back, and you’ll be standing up a little taller too!

(P.S. I really believe ALL our muscles are important, it’s just that today, the transverse abdominals are in the spotlight.)