Simple Ways to Feel Better: Aligning your Core
When I taught science, we always did a lab (disclaimer: it was middle school, so “lab” consisted of any fun, hands on activity the students did) where we constructed a “skeleton” out of toothpicks, and added “muscles” made of rubber bands. Then of course I gave all of the students candy, so I could continue to be their favorite teacher, and moved on with my day.
Years later I still utilize that image when explaining anatomy to people. Think about rubber bands, the more you stretch them out, the more tense and stable they are. Stability is the key feature to focus on today.
In our body, our rubber band muscles provide balanced stability to our skeletal structure. Ideally two opposing muscles balance each other. However, if one muscle is compromised in any way (think weak or short), it means another muscle has to stretch out to provide stability. This often results in one of the muscles being loose and weak, while the other is over stretched and tight.
Unfortunately, for years we have been told we need to “stretch” tight muscles.
To go back to the analogy, what happens when you further stretch a rubber band that is already fully extended? Often that is what you are doing to certain muscles in your body.
This is often seen in the hips and hamstrings. People who sit much of the day (in a car, in a desk, on a couch watching tv), develop short hip flexor muscles on the front of their hips, and have over stretched hamstrings.
It takes a combination of things to fully improve movement in your hips. Especially if you sit for hours a day. One thing that helps improve muscle tissue quality is Foam Rolling. Another you can do is to strengthen and stabilize your core.
By making those rubber band muscles stronger and more balanced, they can hold your skeleton in place without getting over stretched or taxed as easily. Two great foundational exercises for hip mobility and core strength are Planks and Floor Bridges. You can put these in at the beginning of your workout, or even do them at home on the floor while watching TV.
Lie on your back. Pull your feet up close to your body. Line up your hips, knees, and feet. Make sure your knees stay in alignment with your hips and feet, and don't wobble in or out. Press up through your glutes. You should not feel it in your hamstrings or lower back. Raise yourself to where your body forms a straight line. Make sure not to over extend or arch your back. At the top position, flex your glutes and hold for 4 seconds. Lower yourself to the ground for 2 seconds. Then repeat. Aim for 12 reps.
Lie flat on your stomach. Pull your elbows in next to your body. Make a fist. Rock back into the plank position, leading with your core and glutes. Most people push up from their shoulders, then pull their core up. It is more effective to tighten your core, and rock back forcing your core to rise first. Hold at the top for 4 seconds, flexing your core and glutes. This will make sure you maintain a flat back. Also, resist the urge to let your head hang or to look up. Rather, keep your head and neck in alignment with your spine. Rock back down smoothly to your starting position, then repeat. Again, aim for 12 reps.