Your front is only as strong as your back is pliable. You need them both for sustainable core strength.
And since it’s all connected, the same thing is true in reverse: your back is only as strong as your front is pliable.
One of things I look for when I’m assessing core strength and function is the degree of mobility I see in the client’s spine.
The spine has three segments: the pliable and mobile thoracic spine and the stable, supportive cervical and lumbar spines. Each segment relates to one above and/or below and they all affect each other. We tend to think of the spine as being a single element of the body, but don’t forget that the spine is simply a series of individual bones whose movement is created by the muscles that attach to them. When the core muscles fall into habits of holding tension, when we lose our connection to conscious activation and release of those muscles, we lessen the potential for effective, sustainable core strength and mobility.
In the last teacher’s workshop, we looked at cat/cow and the frequent lack of lumbar flexion as a component of the “chunking” of the lumbar spine, pelvis and femurs, along with all their associated muscles. We can also look at the same movement as an indicator of the posterior chain pliability we need for good core function.
The lumbar spine is meant to be strong and stable, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the capacity for movement. Once we find the ability to articulate this often-overlooked area, we can stop bracing and gripping the abs as we try to overcome the tensions of the back. Does that sound familiar? That tension-on-tension effect of over-using one side to compensate for the other? No fun.
What happens if you don’t rush through your spine in cat/cow, if you don’t focus on this action solely as a core exercise? Or as being only about the upper spine? Focus on allowing each individual segment of the spine to open up towards the ceiling. Do you get a sense that your abdominals can just follow along with the bones? Do you get more sense of space and less restriction?
You get to see all that in action in the video below, taken from a workshop I did for Pilates and yoga teachers. The wonderful teacher in the demo has been teaching yoga for years has done countless cat/cows and was still blown away by how the spine sequencing and core strength potential changes when you change the WHY of your movement.
Check out this video for a short Cat/Cow tutorial
When you have clients with faulty core mechanics this is a great sequence to play with for sustainable core strength. Finding mobility in the posterior chain will allow them to stop fighting tension with tension and allow the belly muscles to stop over-working and start responding reflexively to whole body movement.
Try this version of the cat shape and let’s re-visit later and add a core-supported cow. Look out… upper thoracic extension is tricky stuff and many clients , with the best intentions in the world may be missing their sweet spot!
After you (or your client) has spent some time flexing and extending, this twisted figure 4 is a lovely change of pace that feels great. You could alternate between the two as the basis for a yummy core class.
Got questions? Comments? Requests?
Let me know in the comments below… let’s chat!