A Tour of the Core

As a society we are core obsessed. If a workout has the word “core” in it, it’s supposed to be good for us.  Apparently we should seek out such workouts because if “core” is involved we will become stronger, healthier and more attractive. I must admit that when I first hear the word core uttered, it was  shrouded in mystery and sounded difficult, perhaps even threatening. So what’s the big deal about core workouts? What’s all this hype about, and does it have to be difficult to be a good workout? Let’s unveil some of the mystery behind the core musculature.

For our purposes we’ll talk about two types of muscles; postural muscles and phasic muscles. Postural muscles help you maintain posture and keep you upright against the force of gravity. They support your frame and help with endurance, balance, and strength. Postural muscles are also called core muscles. They are deep within the body (at the core).

Phasic muscles allow you to move quickly and efficiently. They are the “doers.” To pick up a cup, kick a ball or stand up from a chair, phasic muscles are the first to volunteer for the task. The phasic muscles help you perform a task, but the postural muscles help you to maintain it. Sometimes the phasic muscles will try to do the job of the postural muscles. Unfortunately, since they are not built for endurance they often wear themselves out and get hurt. This is why it’s so important to strengthen the core muscles. Injuries often arise because phasic muscles are not strong enough to repeatedly perform a task that requires the support of core/postural muscles. The core muscles really “have the back” of the phasic muscles. If the phasic muscles are not quite strong enough (and this happens even with body builders) the core muscles step in to help out. So the core muscles must pitch in to help, or havoc ensues.

The core workouts that we hear about often focus on the deep abdominal muscles, which are important muscles to support our backs. However, postural muscles also include muscles in the neck, chest, hips and legs. Therefore, it’s important to try to strengthen the full range of core muscles in the body.  Several common yoga postures can help strengthen the core muscles, particularly if you hold them for 30 seconds or so. Here are a few examples.

  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank) engages the obliques, quadratus lumborum (the “hip hiker” muscle in the low back/hip area), and spinal extensors as they work against gravity to maintain the pose.
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) is a good supportive pose that works many of the hip and leg muscles as they hold the spine up.
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose) is a vigorous and powerful pose known for increasing strength in the quads and gluteus muscles. It also works the spinal extensor muscles as you reach your arms overhead.
  • Vrksasana (Tree Pose) like many balance poses, standing on one leg can work the hip, leg and deep abdominal muscles. Try to keep the hip of the standing leg from drooping as it’s important to keep the quadratus lumborum muscle strong to reduce injury to the back.

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

 

Jumping in Feet First

In yoga (and in balance in general) our foundation is our feet. If there’s alignment issues in a standing yoga posture, we look at the feet and work our way up. Even slight changes in foot position can improve your yoga practice. When our feet are faced with an injury, even a slight one, it can affect our balance and movement patterns. The foot is an amazing structure that’s designed to help propel us forward while keeping the body above balanced and strong. Like the foundation of a house, feet are designed to withstand weight, activity and movement. They are flexible enough to do so while navigating uneven ground, surfaces that change, and challenging footwear. Sadly, Imbalances in the feet can lead to issues such as ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, neuropathies, etc.

To understand a little more about this important body part, let’s delve deeper into the feet. But before jumping in feet first, we must keep in mind that the calves and knees are important to foot health as well. Try to keep the muscles above and below the knees (thighs, calves, and shins) strong and flexible with regular exercise and stretches.

The feet themselves are made up of LOTS of bones, muscles, and other structures. The bones of the foot include the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula), which connect to a bone called the talus to form the ankle joint. The talus sits on top of the calcaneus, or heel bone. It also connects with the bones that form the shape of the foot. The mid-foot is made up of the tarsal/metatarsal bones. Then the phalanges form our toes.

Bones provide structure to the foot, then arches (two that go from front to back and one side to side) act like shock absorbers as we walk, run, skip, dance, etc. There are lots of muscles. Some of them start in the leg and go into the foot allowing for motion at the ankle. Within the foot lay the intrinsic muscles. These are 4 layers of muscles that help with all the small movements necessary to navigate the earth. On top of all the muscles is fascia (a sheet of connective tissue covering and surrounding the muscles). There are so many structures in these feet of ours, it’s easy to see how problems can occur. So make sure to take care of your feet so that they can take care of you.

To enhance foot health, try:

  • Wearing Supportive Shoes
  • Rolling a golf or lacrosse ball under foot to help with tightness (i.e. plantar fasciitis)
  • Stretch the Calf and Hamstring Muscles
  • Strengthen the Hip Muscles (This will help with balance and therefore also support the feet)

You can also try these yoga postures to help stretch and strengthen the foot:

  • Adho Mukha Svavasana (Downward Facing Dog)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Prasarita Podottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold)
  • Plank
  • Janu Sirsasana (One-Legged Forward Fold)
  • Prvta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved One-Legged Forward Fold)

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie