A question that gets asked by 90% of people who walk through the door.
In order to understand if your core is activated or how to activate it, a foundational knowledge of what it is and what its main role is needed.
What is my core and what does it do?
Your core is comprised of the muscles between your diaphragm and your pelvic floor. It wraps around your torso adding stability and protection to your lumbar spine/ lower back.
Coke can analogy:
If we have 2 cans, we open one and keep the other closed and then stand on them both, one collapses, and one maintains its structure. The closed can is what we want your core to be like. It has a top, bottom, sides and a seam down the back.
The top is your diaphragm, the bottom your pelvic floor, the sides your transverse abdominus and multifidus and the seam if your spine.
When we add load to the can the pressure within increases to enable it to maintain its shape. Likewise, when we add load by contracting one of the components of your core the intra-abdominal pressure (pressure within your abdomen) increases as the sides contract and push in, this stabilises your torso and protects your lower back especially as external load and more complex movements are applied.
How do I activate my core?
Everyone will have their own spin on how they teach this but one way that goes back to the foundations and allows people to start with the basics and feel confident moving forward is learning how to find neutral spine.
Finding the neutral spine position is important when learning to activate the core because studies have found that your transverse abdominus and pelvic floor muscles activate the easiest when in this position. 
- Start lying on your back
- Feet flat on the mat, hip width apart.
- In this position rock the pelvic back and forth allowing your lower back to arch and flatten into the mat.
- Find the middle point where your lower back has a little gap under it. In this position your hip bones at the front and your pubic bone should all sit level with one another and horizontal to the floor, if you are tilted too far one way, your pubic bone may sit higher than your hip bones or your hip bones may sit higher than your pubic bones.
- Sink the back of your ribcage into the mat by imagining a heavy stack of books sitting on your chest and pushing you flat against the floor.
- Shoulder placement is found but reaching the hands, arms and shoulders towards the ceiling. You should feel the shoulder blades gently glide around the sides of the ribcage from under the mat.
- Gently nod the chin towards the chest keeping your jaw relaxed. To allow this, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and keep the jaw slightly open.
Engaging the musculature of the core whilst maintaining neutral spine.
This can be found through abdominal activation or through using your pelvic floor.
- Abdominal activation: starting in the neutral spine position and hovering the arms by the sides of the hips, pulse the arms up and down 5 x per inhale and 5 x per exhale.
- Pelvic floor: starting in neutral spine position practicing. Engage the pelvic floor by lifting the muscular sling running from the public bone to the tail bone (similar feeling to holding in a wee). There should be a gentle tightening of the lower abdominals and not a bulging. Once engaged, take a few breaths maintaining the contraction and then relax.
Try both methods and find which works best for you, then keep practicing!
Now that you’ve got an understanding of the basics of how to activate your core, you can start progressing the exercises to add arm or leg movements or add load/ resistance.
For guidance on progression, book an appointment here or give us a call on 8964 4086.
If you’re still struggling to feel your lower abdominals and core activate, book an appointment with one of your local physios to take you through step by step, with various positions and cues that will work best for you.
- Lynders, C. The Critical Role of Development of the Transversus Abdominis in the Prevention and Treatment of Low Back Pain. 2019
In previous blogs we’ve looked at some of the physical, psychological and social benefits that playing a team sport can have on children. Today we’re going to be looking specifically at Australian Rules Football (we’ll just call it AFL for ease of reading from here on in!) and some of the great effects it can have on kids’ physical and social development. As AFL continues to grow in NSW, so does physiotherapists’, Doctors’, psychologists’ and education expert’s knowledge of how AFL and other ball sports positively affect children and their development into young adults. Unfortunately my love of AFL can only be channelled through being able to support the physical needs of players and unashamedly cheering on the GWS Giants from the stands. Us sports physiotherapists aren’t much help to others when we’re injured, and I seem to be a target for big hits and big injuries (ask me any time about the number of surgeries I’ve been through).
This year I am going to be sponsoring the Balgowlah Suns Junior AFL Club and helping kids and parents to get a sports physiotherapists view of the biomechanics, preparation and recovery that go into every game. When prepared for properly, AFL is one of the safest sports children can play, with less physical contact than rugby league, more hand to eye co-ordination skills and more aerobic fitness. Getting kids into safe and fun sports is essential in combating childhood obesity and improving social development skills.
What are the physical benefits of AFL and programs like Auskick?
Children learn a variety of fundamental and advanced gross motor skills from kicking, handballing, catching, running, jumping and evading that will benefit them for future physical development and sports participation. Through regular training, children are also learning the basics of fitness conditioning and the basic principles and importance of health and nutrition.
- Improved physical fitness
- Increased hand-eye coordination
- Better aerobic capacity
- Strengthening muscles and bones
How does AFL improve psychological and social skills?
Children who play physically active team sports are more attentive, have a more efficient memory, enhanced creativity, better learning adaptability and problem solving and attitude regulations abilities. AFL Juniors have to make rapid and complex decisions during the game while remembering certain structures of play and achieving pre-defined goals. This allows children to adapt to a variety of situations off the field more efficiently with the neuroplasticity of the brain creating new neural pathways at an astonishing speed in young kid’s brains. Yes, you read that correctly, football gameplay learning makes kids more adaptable. There’s more good news though.
Children who participate in team sports develop important social skills, a sense of belonging and camaraderie much faster than kids who don’t. The President of the International Council for Sport Science and Physical Education, Professor Margaret Talbot once stated ‘Sports and other challenging physical activities are distinctively powerful ways of helping young people learn to ‘be themselves’. These benefits flow positively through children’s lives and the broader community is better for it too.
- Better communication skills
- Fosters a sense of self belief
- Improves concentration and cognitive function
- Increases teamwork skills
- Builds a sense of mateship/belonging
- Make a ton of new friends
Good preparation and recovery is vital
Preparation and recovery is much more than hitting the carbs the night before and a bottle of powerade in the morning (more on why you shouldn’t dose your kids with powerade in a following article). It is important to stay hydrated leading up to and on the day of the game and eating a balanced, nutritional diet is going to help keep kids fuelled up for the big game. Complete a warm up and cool down including stretching, slow jogging and running activities, with and without the football to minimise the risk of muscular and joint injuries.
Get a musculoskeletal screening test
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to see into the future and prevent an injury before it happened? Musculoskeletal screening tests aren’t quite looking into a crystal ball, but they are becoming increasingly backed up by numbers and science. Do you think the pros step out onto the pitch and just hope that their body has it in it that day? They have an entire team of physiotherapists, sports scientists and strength and conditioning experts monitoring every step that they take. Musculoskeletal physiotherapists test a range of movements and take measurements to create a physical profile that will identify areas that may be more susceptible to an injury. Musculoskeletal screening tests have been shown to be an accurate and reliable indicator of specific injuries in AFL players. Finding a Dee Why sports physiotherapy expert is crucial to ensuring any musculoskeletal screening tests are comprehensive and accurate, otherwise you may actually be putting yourself or your child at risk of suffering an injury.
AFL is an all round awesome sport for children to help grow and adapt so many skills that are going to benefit them in later life, not to mention they get a real kick out of it! If you have any questions about all sports physiotherapy or musculoskeletal screening tests for AFL or other sports, get in touch with us.
 Erwin H, Fedewa A, Beighle A, Ahn S. A Quantitative Review of Physical Activity, Health, and Learning Outcomes Associated With Classroom-Based Physical Activity Interventions. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 2012;28(1):14–36.
 Reliability of common lower extremity musculoskeletal screening tests Belinda J. Gabbea, Bennellb, Wajswelnerc, Finch. Physical Therapy in Sport 5 (2004) 90–97