Inner Unit core muscles are just as important as the six pack!

As we age, and watch loved ones around us aging, we may find we’re not as concerned about the six pack so much as about our basic ability to remain functional and maintain balance. Seeing my mother in law who is afraid to walk outside in the winter because of the ice or parents falling off chairs when they reach for things out of cupboards can we provide a reality check about what’s important.

The six pack is considered to be the outer unit of core muscles; the movers, superficial muscles. It’s great to work and challenge these superficial muscles and it’s even rewarding, aesthetically speaking, when we can see the “pack”.

However, I believe that it’s equally as important to look at the inner unit muscles that stabilize. They are the ones that keep us sturdy when we hit a patch of ice or help maintain our balance and prevent injury.

Inner unit muscles include: pelvic floor muscles (perenials), transverse abdominus, diaphragm (breathing muscle, it works all the time) and multifidus. You don’t have to know their names, you just need to know that these muscles are your deep stabilizers, they provide stability for the core and act like a cylinder inside your body.

For the perfect “all round core exercise routine” we should include exercises that challenged both the outer and inner unit muscles.

1/ Pelvic floor – your pelvic floor is a diamond shaped group of muscles that sit between pubic bone, coccyx and your two sitz bones. Imagine a 10 story building between your pubic bone and your navel, your pelvic floor muscles are the elevator inside the building. For minimum stability your elevator needs to engage to the 1st or 2nd floor, if you want to balance on one foot, the elevator needs to be up at the 8th or 9th floor. If that visual doesn’t work for you, imaging walking into a really cold lake, everything moves up!

Exercise – Practice drawing your pelvic floor muscles from the groud floor of the building up to the top floor. How about stopping at the 5th floor? Repeat.

  • NOTE:When you contract the pelvic floor muscles, it shouldn’t be obvious on the outside because they are deep stabilizer muscles. So don’t let your glutes fire and pretend you are working your pelvic floor muscles.

2/ Your Transverse abdominus works like a girdle around your body. Therefore a great exercise to make sure you are recruiting the TVA is when you do an abdominal curl. Visualize the girdle flattening that big band of muscle that runs from your pubic bone to the bottom of your rib cage (rectus abdominus).

Exercise – Abdominal curls, focus on, engaging the pelvic floor before you move so that you are stable. Draw the navel to spine as you draw the hips and ribs closer together into the curl. Repeat.

3/ The Multifidus muscle stabilizes you against rotation.

Exercise – Picture an imaginary pane of glass in front of you at shoulder height. Extend your arm out in front, circle from the shoulder wash on, circle from the shoulder the other way, wash off (as in the Karate Kid). Repeat.

4/ Plank exercise is one of the most effective core exercises out there. It challenges both inner and outer unit muscles. The trick is to make sure it is the core that is working and not the shoulders and hip flexors. The most essential part of plank is set up. scapula placement, engagement of the pelvic floor before you move into the plank position.

Exercise – Standing up against a wall, touch your shoulder blades to the wall, drawing the bony protrusions on the tops of your shoulders in line with the side seams on your shirts – take an internal photo graph. Now as you bring your body forward into kneeling, maintain that feeling of the shoulder blades so that you are fighting against gravity which is pulling your shoulders and chest forward.

Ensure your shoulders are stacked over to of your elbows (whether you are choosing to plank from your hands or your elbows).

From a kneeling position, draw your pelvic floor up to ensure stabilization. Tuck your toes underneath and lift your knees an inch off the floor – hold.

These are my four favorite exercises and offer a well rounded challenge for both the inner and outer unit muscles. Give them a try!