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  Alexander Technique Cheshire


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"The Core"
August 2013
In this Issue
What is the Core?
Anatomy of the Core
Alternative Concepts
Quick Links


August! Cooling temperatures, the last weeks of summer, time to take a deep breath before the regular busy "back-to-school" atmosphere.
Recently I took a swift walk with a good friend. One of our topics ended with my bold statement "abdominals are quite overrated." The ensuing conversation (or should I rather call it 'my lecture') lead to a more thorough consideration of the concept of core for this newsletter.
Enjoy those waning summer days, it's beautiful out there!
Michaela Hauser-Wagner

 The Core as Concept


Everyone who has ever been in an exercise class or watched a program on back pain or read an article on back injury has come across this word: your core, pull your core in, engageyour core muscles. Today I will look a little closer at the concept of core and offer an alternative interpretation.

Let's begin with a simple question: what do you think when 'the core' is being mentioned, what is it? My guess is that you most likely connect the word to your abdominal muscles. We have to assume that we all think and act differently when we are 'engaging with our core', because neither the anatomy of the system nor the degree of engagement are explained to us while we are sweating on a machine or mat in the gym. Also, the brain just likes to do this: the brain interprets and creates meaning in order to make sense of words, feelings, concepts. This means you will arrive at your individual understanding of 'core', and this understanding will also be linked to your personal way of doing things, your habit.


I wonder when this usage of the word as a phys. ed. concept originated. Did your parents or grandparents use it? I wouldn't know, I came to this country about 22 years ago and by then the term was fully established. But it seems that in my native German language they still use the "good" old word abdominals - actually they say belly muscles. I am not saying that this simplification provides the necessary clarity or rationale; why would we actually use the belly muscles if our back muscles are weak?


What bothers me also about the ubiquitous use of 'core' is that it seems to be equivalent with some moral standard, a stand-in for the core of your being, just like exercising itself might be viewed as a moral concept.


deep postural muscles
Frank Netter, MD; Atlas of Human Anatomy
Some Core Anatomy


"In anatomy, the core refers, in its most general of definitions, to the body minus the legs and arms ... The major muscles of the core reside in the area of the belly and mid and lower back ..." (wikipedia)


"The muscles of the torso, which provide support for the spine and pelvis" (, definition # 15.)


We can find many similar definitions of core that all refer to a system of muscles rather than focusing on the abdominals: "The muscles of posture are situated mainly on the anterior and posterior aspects of the body" (Royal Air Force, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology for PT Instructors)


"To really include all of the elements that move and stabilize the spine, you have to go from your knees to your nipples. That's the core" (NY Times PhysEd columnist Gretchen Reynolds quoting Dr. Vijad Vad, MD) "The muscles, ligaments and tendons that make up the elaborate core muscle system provide rigging for the spine. ... the big muscles at the front and sides of the spine are particularly important in stabilizing the back. So are the less familiar intertransversi, interspinalis and multifidus muscles ...."

Again, why do we focus on the abdominals when the back is weak or achy? One of the reasons might be that the system of deep postural muscles that link vertebrae together eludes our sensory awareness - we actually do not feel the deepest layers of back muscles, which have a different physiology and staying power than the more peripheral movement muscles that we can voluntarily contract (control, engage, pull in, exercise) and feel. Frankly, I think the intelligent use of the true core, the postural back muscles, is being sacrificed to the readily contractible and easily felt abdominal muscles. It is as if the consumer of physical health practices cannot be trusted with a deeper and meaningful understanding of his/ her physiology.



Alternative Concepts
You can think
  • about your core as a system of interlaced spiraling muscles around your torso from the pubic bone to the back of your neck or from the pelvis to the front of your neck
  • that engaging your abdominal muscles at 10 % of their potential strength might be adequate to keep your spine stable
  • about the concept of muscle tone; toned muscles being the difference between flaccid, lax, lazy muscles and tense overworking muscles
  • about giving your spine the job of keeping you up while you are sitting and standing; this might be the best exercise for your core (the secret is, that you can do it almost everywhere and almost all the time)
  • that the pelvic floor musculature is part of your core, not as in Kegel exercises but as part of your upwards spiraling muscle container
  • that your breathing thorax and your digestive system need to be free and in motion for your overall health 
  • that the functioning of your core is based upon the functioning of your whole body in any activity with adequate muscle use
  • up along the spine and out through the crown of your head when you exercise

and to be blunt

  • don't' do crunches or sit-ups
  • don't exercise your long vertical abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominis
  • don't aim for six-packs
  • don't bring your neck towards your pubis
  • don't strengthen your flexor system in the front instead of your extensor system in your back



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or call 203-988-8344



New video created by the American Society for the Alexander Technique to educate the public. Your comments are welcome, whether you are a student with experience in the Technique or whether you are a potentially interested newcomer.


Are you wondering if you have prepaid lessons with me? Send me an email or give me a call to find out. As you know, I will be honoring those indefinitely.