Often times people experience over active Erector Spinea (low back) muscles while performing hip hinging movement patterns such as dead lift, squat, bent over row, and lunges. This causes excessive arching of the low back, and usually comes with low back pain or stiffness. To protect the spine, we want the Erector Spinae to be active, but to avoid the tightness and pain we also need to activate the muscles on the other side of the body. The Rectus Abdominus (Abs) need to be engaged in order to help the Erector Spinae protect the spine.
When someone has a “weak core” typically people think that means Abs. In actuality the CORE includes all the muscles of your trunk, front and back, and some (myself included) would also include the musculature in and around your hip joint. Having an inactive or weak section of your trunk can result in damage to the spine or compensation of the other sections leading to asymmetry and back pain. As a trainer I see many clients struggle to engage their abdomen when doing the exercises above and many others. I hope that at least one of the tips below will click for you and help you learn how to coordinate your CORE!
1) Stand in front of a mirror that allows you to see your torso (hips up). Place one hand, palm facing down at the bottom of your rib cage, and one hand, palm facing up, at the top of your pubis. Look in the mirror and take a long, deep breath. If your hands came apart and your ribs flared up try holding the breath for a second, keep your back muscles tight and squeeze your abs so your rib cage descends and your hands come closer together again. If your hands did not come apart, congratulations you know how to breathe correctly with your diaphragm. Now hold that breathe deep in your belly, and try to tighten your abs around that air, bringing your hands closer by ½ inch or so.
2) If you have something that you can blow up with your mouth (balloon, snow tube, ect.) grab it. If not, you can practice something similar by forcing air through a tiny straw. Try blowing up your balloon by using every last bit of air from each breath. You MUST try to force all the air out of your body and into the balloon, or through the straw every time. When the balloon becomes so full it is hard to get any more air in, keep trying to force as much air into it as you can. This should help you feel your abdomen squeezing tight to force out every bit of air you have, and with the feedback from the air pressure in the balloon as it fills up, I would be surprised if you don’t feel something in your belly!
3) Grab a belt. Suck in your belly a bit like a pretty girl, or handsome hunk is walking by you at the pool. Wrap the belt around your belly, just above your belly button. Now try to break the belt with your belly. Do a few reps of this holding each rep for about 10 seconds. Don’t forget to breath!
Try these techniques a few times. When you learn how to activate those muscles in a standing position, you will then have an easier time using them while doing none AB specific movements, like squats, dead lifts, bent over rows, ball slams, ect.
Let me know how it goes, have a high quality core!
Mike Gilmore, Fitness Together Newtonville