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Beneath the 6 pack

Jenni van den Berg - Certificate III and IV in fitness, Pilates matwork and reformer

Ok, lets talk about your midsection, if you were to peel the layers away first you would have some clothes (unless you are rudie nudie of course! Or wearing your bikini!), then some skin, then some fat, then some muscles.

The way the core works

The first layer of muscles you will come to are your rectus abdominis, aka your 6 pack muscles, down the beach you might even see a few on a hot guy or two. The rectus job is to flex the spine by drawing the shoulders closer to the pelvis.

The second layer of muscles are your internal and external obliques, these guys are responsible for allowing you to rotate your spine and flex side to side.

The third layer is a team member of your inner stabilising core and it's called your transverse abdominis, aka the TA or just transverse. Your transverse abdominis runs from your ribcage down to your pelvis and literally circumnagivates the body and when you activate it, it is a bit like drawing on the strings of a corset and it pulls you in lightly front, back and sides. The transverse is predominantly a slow twitch muscle group and as such, it is perfectly matched for the endurance work of stabilising your spine throughout the day.

But the transverse doesn't work in isolation, it has some team mates to create stability for the spine and create postural control. You can think of the team mates just like a tin can:

So you didn't even know it, but you have a sculpture of your inner core right in your pantry! It's so going on the mantel piece right?!?

So this inner canister of the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, multifidus and pelvic floor, all work together to create dynamic stability. It is referred to as dynamic stability as these players are always moving and interacting throughout each breath.

It's pretty amazing system - as when the pressure builds within the lungs, the diaphragm descends and the transverse and pelvic floor yield to accept the contents of the belly which are displaced. Then on the exhale the pressure in the lungs starts to dissipate but the pelvic floor and transverse have been elastically loaded by the inhalation so they spring back into position. So the system maintains sufficient pressure to stabilise the spine by either the pressure from the inhalation breath in the lungs or musculature in the abdomen. Wow, mother nature, that is pretty cool!

Even more clever though, think about a cough or a sneeze for a moment – these are GIANT exhales, and if our pelvic floor is moving as it should, it has a better chance of coping with the onslaught of pressure from above because it is in the lifted position.

So literally throughout every minute of our lives our inner core is lightly opening, lightly closing and this very action is like doing mini kegels without even thinking about it. See the breath, so the best abdominal exercise out!