My husband and I purchased our first home 5 years ago. It was a bit of a “fixer-upper.” After closing, we immediately started work; knocking down walls, re-tiling, scrapping wood floors – we did it all! After some long months of work, it was done and I loved every square foot.  A few months later, to my absolute disgust, I noticed a huge crack in the corner of the guest room on the once blemish free, freshly painted wall. We quickly got it patched with the thought “houses shift”. Over the 5 years we have owned our home, cracks have appeared over closets, in the corners of windows and coming from our baseboards. Anyone who listens to me would consider me a fool if I kept blindly covering up these cracks without a deeper look into my foundation, correct?

The same goes for our bodies. Our core, our middle, our foundation is truly the epicenter where all good movement originates. It stabilizes and acts to transfer power from our lower body to our upper body.  We know that when we operate from a stable middle and can properly engage our core, we are able to safely pick things up from the ground and perform activities around the house and in the gym without a leakage of power, or the need to rely on other structures for stability.

Do we excessively bend at our low backs every time we pick up things from the ground? Do we not utilize our diaphragm in every breath we take, making our neck muscles overwork in order to ventilate and take in breath? Slowly, I start to see cracks, leaks, and dysfunction that can be traced back to a suboptimal foundation.

So, what do I mean, when I say our “core”? First off, the core does not mean abs. More often than not, when I bring this idea up, patients will say “yeah, I know I’m weak, I never do crunches” or conversely “no, that can’t be the issue, I do planks and sit-ups regularly.”  The core I am talking about isn’t strengthened by traditional abdominal exercise – and arguably, can be completely overridden and ignored during these exercises, causing undue stress and pressure in our bellies.

Let’s dig a little deeper with some definitions:

Outer unit or our “abs” – these are muscles that are located in our tummies but are more on the outside and considered to be global muscles. These muscles include:

  • Rectus abdominus
  • Internal/external oblique
  • Glutes

These muscles do help in stability, but what they are best at is moving our trunks, bending, lifting and twisting. They are strong muscles, but conversely, have little endurance. These muscles are the primary muscles trained when we do things like sit-ups, planks, and crunches.

Inner unit or our “core” – these are muscles that are deeper. They are considered “postural” muscles. These are not considered to be strong but have great endurance, so they can be on all day long, protecting our joints and holding us up. They are also considered “anticipatory” in that they turn on first, before a movement and turn on involuntarily.  Our inner unit consists of:

  • Diaphragm
  • Transversus abdominus
  • Multifidus
  • Pelvic floor

The great thing about this group of muscles is they are exactly that, a group. Individually, these muscles cannot accomplish much, but if coordinated together, they are able to stabilize our backs, manage pressure, protect our organs and joints, and so much more.

These muscles are trained differently. Our inner unit is addressed through breathing exercises, isolated movements, and contractions, and most importantly, trained in a timely manner and in the correct order of operations, by ensuring activation of this group first, before any other movement or exercise.

As a therapist, I check almost every patient I see on how they use this “inner unit.” Do they utilize their diaphragm with every breath they take? What happens at their pelvis and low back when they roll over in bed or lift a foot off the ground? And this my friends is where we start. First on education and awareness of this group to slowly adding more movement, more function until, voila! The use of our inner unit is automatic and a part of our everyday life.

Marrying our anticipatory unit, to our strong, reactive unit, creates a strong stable base!

So, what does this have to do with cracks in my attic window? Just like I would be considered silly to not at least check on my foundation if I continued to have cracks in my house, are we spinning our wheels, treating pain and dysfunction elsewhere when maybe our foundation could use a little work? Do I keep patching cracks by only issuing patients shoulder specific exercises without incorporating their shoulder into their middle? Finding healthcare professionals that are good “foundation experts” is critical for overall rehab and full body integration!

What does your foundation look like? Go find a specialist to help you inspect yours today.