Our core, the muscles of the stomach and back, organs, bones, connective tissues, our intuition, gut feelings, confidence, so much of how we feel and look depends on this area of our body. We rely on this area for support and strength, digestion, elimination, helping circulation of blood, relaxation and to aid in breathing. Yet, often times we are not even aware that some of the actions we are doing, such as crunches, slumping while sitting, doing pelvic floor exercises in the car and constant pulling in from the waistline could actually be detrimental to the core, and impeding function of the organs. For example, crunches can force extra pressure downwards to the pelvic floor weakening the tissues, as well as making the outer abdominal muscles really strong leading to muscle imbalances and still not shifting abdominal fat.
How to tighten the stomach?
The deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor are the muscles that flatten the stomach, and of course diet. This can only be achieved through learning to recruit these muscles with the right diaphragmatic breathing pattern which in time will change the coordination pattern of core recruitment. At the same time learning to position the core into an alignment that recruits these muscles optimally. If the deep abdominal muscles are slack, the internal organs will flop forwards as the organs automatically move forwards and downwards due to the forces of gravity.
Avoid exercises that push the stomach outwards, Concentrate on exercises that draw the organs up, in, and towards the spine.
However, the truth is that before any strengthening can be achieved, first there is a CONNECTION STAGE, to reprogram your body and brain, it is best to focus on locating and coordinating the muscles slowly and gently, so that the recruitment can occur that also involves the conscious brain and feeling what the difference is between sensing the outer abdominals and the deeper abdominals. Only after this first stage has occurred, then your core is ready for strengthening, the MOVEMENT STAGE. Rushing through the connecting process, especially if you already have a strong pattern of tightening hip flexors, shoulders, glutes or/and outer abdominals to do core strengthening will only reinforce the same pattern. Be gentle, be kind, take your time.
Some basic visual anatomy
Lets look at it anatomically, basically, the core includes your deep abdominal muscles and deep spinal muscles that form an internal corset to support your spine, which is also supported by the pelvic floor muscles from below and the diaphragm from above.
The breathing practice
Breathing can be practiced in any position. Breathing not only strengthens the deep abdominal muscles, it stimulates the internal organs, promotes bowel movement and strengthens urinary tract function.
During exhalation, the diaphragm moves up, taking the internal organs with it, moving the pelvic floor up and tightening the deep abdominal muscles as well as the deep spinal muscles creating a vacuum. The exhalation is the active, yang process. The abdominals are muscles of exhalation.
During inhalation, the diaphragm moves down, this also means that the pelvic floor moves down, your shoulders stay relaxed, there is an expansion through the waist, ribs and spine. The inhalation is the passive, yin process, it happens automatically after full exhalation. The abdominals do not contract.
It is during exhalation that the awareness fully draws on the internal deep core muscles to contract slowly, deeply, gently starting from the pelvic floor, tightening upwards. After full exhalation, inhalation is an automatic response with expansion. This takes practice and patience.
The alignment practice
- Posture: you can keep the core postural muscles switched on by being aware of your spinal alignment in sitting, standing and walking. During sitting, there is a requirement to keep the weight on the sit bones, not the tail bone, as slumping switches off the core muscles and lets the pelvic floor sag without supporting our organs. It is also important that while this is being performed that there is a release in the waist and softening in the abdominal region, this will allow a more gentle feel into the deep abdominal region to strengthen the core through the breath as mentioned above. Sitting, standing or walking with postural awareness strengthens the core.
Specific exercises: depends on how you are progressing with the CONNECTION STAGE, the MOVEMENT STAGE can be done at any time, but the type of movement depends greatly on your own unique body, there are many exercises, many movement patterns and all are beneficial if done correctly with awareness, breathing and alignment.
Stop crunching, get connected with the deep core through breathing, muscle awareness and by maintaining postural alignment to strengthen the deep core abdominal muscles and tighten your core.