When teaching stability/strength training class the other day, I noticed one of my clients having a diastasis recti. Notice that both men and women can have Diastasis recti. My first reaction was to take off the load to avoid putting too much pressure on the core. After the class, I talked about a couple of breathing exercises my client could do to work that issue and he asked me if he should stop doing crunches. In a nutshell: yes.
Contrary to popular belief, crunches and planks do not define the core. Physically, the core is defined as “the abdominals are in front, the paraspinals and gluteal [muscles] are in the back, the diaphragm at the [top] and the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature at the bottom”. Practically, the trunk does not generate force, it transfers force and allows movement. Pillar strength is what we call core strength.
Pillar strength blends mobility and stability between the hips, torso and shoulders. It lays a foundation for more advanced movements. Its key components are: soft tissue, mobility and stability. When doing pillar preparation, you first want to get rid of trigger points and tension (a foam roller, a massage ball). Following that you need to mobilize key joints to improve symmetry (i.e. shoulder, thoracic spine, hips). At the end you want to activate your muscles to help stabilize your lumbar spine and pelvis, for example.
You can use muscles to stabilize your lower back and pelvis in many ways. Before stabilizing your lumbar spine, do a pelvis tuck and tilt to try and find a neutral zone (exercise to activate core). The neutral zone is between the tuck and the tilt. With a properly aligned spine, you can start challenging its stability. If you are running, cycling or doing any kind of sport or training, without a stable spine, you cannot move efficiently and conduct force from the upper body to the lower body. An unstable spine is like shooting a cannon from a canoe. It wastes energy, which creates energy leaks. Those energy leaks can lead to overuse injuries over time.
How Can I work on my Pillar Strength?
You can get screened with either a 30-minutes functional movement screen or get a full assessment in order to identify your weak links and build on them. Furthermore, you can register to my Mobility and Self-Massage Classes, that will help you re-educate your movement patterns. Mobility is included in “pillar preparation”. You need to mobilize before you stabilize your body. You can also take a “Pilates” class and my French mobility class in Gatineau as well. The options have no limits. Start by trying out the following exercise in the video. If this exercise is easy, you can do it in a plank position.
 “Core Strengthening” Akuthota, Venu, and Scott F.Nadler, Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation (2004)