Long, Lean and Lifted

Long, Leanand Lifted

There is an amazing amount of balance and intricate coordination required for movements in daily life, from the most simple to the most complex. Yet we rarely stop to think about what is holding us together. It is not simply a skeleton. There is a complex system of muscles that hold you up and allow you to move. These muscles, like every system of our extremely efficient bodies, function on a ‘use it or lose it‘ principle. Most muscles in your body are designed to be active all day, every day (with the exception of sleep). Muscles are not designed to be neglected and then asked to perform in extreme conditions, just to then return to inactivity. The Tummy Team specializes in core rehabilitation but we do much more than that.

The Transverse Abdominis (your best friend)

It all begins at the core. Without that stability, there is little hope of having a strong and balanced body. Most clients we see begin with nearly completely inactive and neglected internal core muscles. There is a group of muscles that encircle the core (that area between your pelvis and your rib cage) that are primarily responsible for holding you up. The main muscle in this group – the transverse abdominis – is the only muscle in the body that wraps completely around the body to have a front, back, right and left aspect all in one. We often refer to this muscle as a corset or your ‘God-given girdle.’ The function of the transverse abdominis (as well as many core muscles) is to hold you up. It elongates the abdomen between the pelvis and rib cage like a pulled slinky.

When this muscle is strong and active, it is your major postural muscle, holds your organs up and in, and provides stability for your spine. Below is a depiction of the transverse abdominis muscle with all of the other muscles removed. In reality, the transverse abdominis is a deep muscle under several other abdominal and lumbar muscles, but this shows the massiveness of your ‘corset.’

transverse abdominis
The Transverse Abdominis runs from the two sides of the spine along your back, around your sides (love handles) and attaches to your pelvis all the way to your pubic bone and to your lower six ribs all the way to your sternum

The body was designed to be primarily upright and highly mobile.  The muscles need daily work to allow the body to be in optimal positions for balance and movement. So when we help clients rebuild their core, this is our goal. We not only strengthen muscles but we retrain the body to use these muscles all day and every day (as they were designed to be used). We prepare the muscles for active, daily life.

This does not mean sucking in or tensing up all day. It does not mean engaging your muscles at 100% effort all of the time. Neither of these strategies are realistic or helpful. The body is meant to be active and fluid, a happy marriage of stability and mobility. When you stand up, your legs hold you up right?  Your legs are not tense and tight, nor are they noodles and flimsy, but they are ‘on.’  The muscles that support your weight, hold you up, and balance you on your feet are active. This is what your core was designed to be… active.

Long, Lean & Lifted

People often ask us… “Do you really expect us to hold our core active ALL DAY?” Our answer is, emphatically, “yes!” We also expect your neck muscles to hold your head up when you drive, your legs to hold your body up when you stand and walk, and your jaw muscles and tongue to move when you chew. We are not asking too much of the body. It is absolutely possible to rebuild the transverse abdominis and other core muscles to hold you up. As I often say, you want to be “long, lean and lifted” every time you are sitting up or standing up. Believe it or not, this is how your body was actually designed to function. The video below explains how to do this.

Most of us have not used these muscles actively for quite some time. Consider how you are sitting or standing right now. Are you collapsed at the core? Take some time to people watch – especially the people you know who complain of back pain or low energy. If we think about that ‘use it or lose it’ principle then we can easily draw the conclusion that whatever we tell the body to do most will win. If we consistently tell the body it does not need to hold itself up, that you can just collapse the ribs onto the pelvis or rest back against the seat all day, when will it learn how to hold you up properly? If you consistently lean against back support or rest your arms or hips against the counter, why would your body think it needs to hold you up? Look at these visual examples of an inactive core… can you see yourself in any of these images?

Slumped, collapsed core – the transverse is inactive.
Collapsed into chair, sitting on tailbone and unable to activate the core at all.

The leftmost image shows an engaged, active core in neutral alignment. The other three demonstrate how standing in collapsed postures can bring your rib cage and pelvis out of alignment, deactivating the core.

Chairs, couches, cars, and poor fitness choices are changing how our body postures itself and what muscles are used to hold us up throughout the day. They are not exactly ideal for our posture! They will work as compensation strategies temporarily, but they will not last for long before pain sets in. There is a perfect design for our bodies, a way that everything is balanced so the systems work well. It is beautiful and amazing… and very easy to take for granted.

It Starts at the Core

When we are consistently living outside of that optimal design, our body begins to fail. On the other hand, when your muscles do what they were meant to do, the body is able to heal and strengthen. When some muscles are compensating for other muscles to keep you from falling over, those compensating muscles are kept from doing the jobs they were originally intended to do. The chain reaction from disuse and misuse can be long and seemingly unrelated to the core. But the reality is that many internal issues can come from a weak, inactive and misused core. These can include diastasis, lower back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, hernias, and even constipation and other intestinal issues.

You cannot just ‘try harder’ to gain better posture. You have neglected some muscles and misused other muscles in an attempt to power through life. You likely need core rehab. Lucky for you, we specialize in that!

We can help you rebuild your body but it starts at the core. It is not simply a series of exercises. It’s not a list to check off and do again tomorrow. It involves systematically retraining the transverse abdominis and other core muscles to do what they were intended to do, as well as facilitating the body to use the muscles for life. It is a lifestyle. It is learning how your machine runs and helping it run efficiently for the long haul.

The Tummy Team is passionate about long-term changes. We want to prepare you for life. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t searching for answers to your pain. So, what is holding you up? Start your rehab today.

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3 responses to “Long, Lean and Lifted”

  1. HEATHER YOHE says:

    what a wonderful article! thank you so much. I am starting my program and can’t wait for my body to start feeling better

  2. TheTummyTeam says:

    Hi Heather,

    I am so glad this was encouraging. I can’t wait for your body to start feeling better too!

  3. Jacqueline Webb says:

    Very interesting. I’ve been suffering from chronic abdominal and rib/rib muscle pain for over a year and a half. No one has really known whats going on. I’ve recently started working with a new PT and she thinks I’m using chest and abdominal muscles that I shouldn’t be using to hold me up when walking and standing. It definitely does feel that way. I get halfway through the grocery store and i have burning rib and abdominal muscles. She has given me an exercise to start to engage the transverse abdominus muscle. Thank you!

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