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Chapter One: Getting to the Core of the Matter
How would you like to get up in the morning and put on an undergarment that made you smaller all around, made you look taller and lighter, provided firm support for your lower back and your organs, and felt comfortable and flexible? In fact, what if you discovered you looked younger, felt better, and had more energy when you had it on? You would probably want to wear it every day, wouldn't you?
Currently, over 80 percent of the American population is suffering from some kind of back problem, primarily low back pain. A recent health newsletter from the Mayo Clinic (June 1996) stated that doctors treated seven million new cases of back pain in the last year. Insurance companies are spending over $16 billion each year on back injuries alone, and the average workman's compensation cost per employee, for this problem alone, is more than $7,000. It is no wonder many largecompanies require their employees to wear an elastic back support if they do any type of physical activity as part of their job. These wide elastic back supports resemble a kidney belt, and wrap around the body like a corset. The purpose of this corset is to provide external support for the lumbar spine.
Well, here's the good news. We have that same type of corset inside our own bodies! It is a highly underappreciated muscle called the transversus abdominis, which performs exactly the same function as the elastic back support.
Layered over this muscle are the internal obliques, which are composed of three sets of diagonal fibers that each performslightly different functions. These two muscles the transversus abdominis and theinternal obliques together make up what I call the deep internal girdle. There are four muscles that make up the entire abdominal group. They are:transversus abdominis
Starting from the inside out: The transversus abdominis is the deepest layer of muscle. It draws in the abdominal wall and works with the diaphragm to assist in respiration. The fibers of this muscle run horizontally (transversely), around the middle of the body, attaching on the bottom of the rib cage and around the top of the hips. As it contracts it compresses and supports the organs and contents of the abdomen in the body. When the transversus pulls inward, it lifts and supports the rib cage, actually lengthening the distance between the bottom of the ribs and the top of the hips. This is what creates the leaner and taller look. In doing this it acts as an important stabilizer of the trunk, by holding the rib cage and pelvis in correct relationship to one another. Weakness. of this deep muscle results in a bulging out of the abdominal wall.
The internal obliques are the next layer of muscle. Because the fibers run in diagonal directions, they duplicate the action of the original Platex girdle by creating a second panel of support. They also help hold your guts in the pelvic cavity, and aid in respiration by working together with the transversus abdommis. They are major stabilizers of the trunk, and are the primary muscle responsible for alignment of the pelvis. As the lower fibers contract in a slightly upward direction, they rotate the bottom of the pelvis forward, creating a pelvic tilt. This results in a flatter lower abdomen as wen as correct alignment of the pelvis to the rib cage. They are involved at a deep level, in flexion and rotation (twisting), from side to side.
The external obliques are a more superficial layer of muscle, and although they assist in stabilization and respiration, their primary function is trunk flexion and rotation. These are the muscles you use whenever you turn to look over your shoulder, when you reach down to the side to pick up a suitcase or briefcase, or when you do any type of curl up or crunch with a twisting motion. Although like the internal obliques, their muscle fibers are diagonal, they are attached more to the front of the body and do not have the ability to more to pull the abdomen in like the deeper muscles do.
Last, the most superficial muscle the one closest to the outside of the body is the rectus abdominis. It is the primary, muscle used when doing any type of sit-up, curl-up or crunch. The muscle fibers run vertically down the front of the body, from the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs to the crest of the pubic symphysis or pubic bone. It resembles a pair of flank steaks because of the tendon insertion separating the two halves. It has six other tendonous attachments that run across the muscle horizontally, forming the famous "six pack." This muscle basically has one function: flexion. It brings the rib cage and pelvis closer together by either flexing the trunk forward or curling the pelvis upward. It cannot compress the abdomen. In other words, its function has nothing to do with holding the stomach in.
Traditional abdominal exercises have focused on the rectus abdominis and the external obliques to achieve the ever-elusive flat tummy and to strengthen the abdominals as support for the lower back. The problem with that logic is that these are the two most superficial layers of muscle in the abdominal group. As I've just explained, holding in your abdomen is not the primary function of these muscles. Flexion and rotation are, and they can only assist in stabilization. Only the deep layers of muscle-the transversus abdominis and the internal obliques serve that function. They create a solid center from which to build out. That's why I called these exercises that develop these deep layers core exercises.