One of my favorite sayings is “All movement starts from the core out.” The core is our foundation; it’s the first thing we engage before we do any movement. Why? Because our arms and legs need a stable platform to work off. We also need a stiff core to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body or vice versa. If the core isn’t working efficiently, then we will have to compensate from above or below.
Think of trying to get yourself up from laying on the ground, if you aren’t able to sit up on the first try what do you do? Go faster to use momentum? Tense up your shoulders, neck, or legs to help? These are compensation strategies to help increase the force you are generating from the core. If core strength is not enough on its own, you have to recruit something else to help. This compensation is done automatically, subconsciously, and more importantly, constantly! The more inefficient the core is working, the more compensatory forces you have to generate.
Typically we will compensate from the segments directly above and below first and then expand from there if even more compensation is needed. So if the core is not working well while doing a lower body exercise, you will most likely recruit the muscles in your hips, quads, and hamstrings. If still more strength is required, you can engage the shoulders, lower leg, or your feet as well. If the compensation patterns occur enough, then the areas you are compensating with will start to get overused and achy.
However, generating the force is only half the battle. Once a motion is started, and momentum created, then you need to control and transfer those movement forces. We have to be able to maintain our balance and control the force in the desired direction throughout the exercise.
If we look at a squat, some muscles are working to maintain your balance, and keep the motion in the correct plane (up and down, rather than forward and backward). If the core is stable, then we have a good, solid foundation to work off. Then the hip muscles can focus on controlling your balance and the changes in motion. If the core is not working correctly, then those same hip muscles have to work harder to stabilize the joint AND try and control your balance and changes in motion. Again, if we overload muscles and use them in ways they weren’t designed, they’ll start to bark at you by feeling tight or painful.
So if the core is not working well while doing a lower body exercise, you will most likely recruit the muscles in your hips, quads, and hamstrings.
Finally, our body has to transfer force from joint to joint to continue the movement. Let’s look at an example: When you walk the force from the ground are transferred into your foot, then has to be transferred up your leg. From there, it travels into your core, and either converted into movement or absorbed throughout the body.
But what if you have an area of your body that cannot control the force and transfer it effectively? Let’s say your knee doesn’t control the force transferred up from the foot. Then whatever energy that cannot be transferred will be absorbed in that joint and the surrounding tissue. Ever step off a curb with your knees locked and get that jarring feeling up your body? That’s what is going on and the joint level with every step. Do that long enough, guess where you’ll start to feel some pain? Yup, that same knee.
The body creates force by contracting muscles and turning it into movement, and then transferring and controlling that force to other parts of the body to build momentum. When done efficiently, it is a beautiful symphony of segments working together. When done improperly, it can cause areas to get overworked, tight, achy, and can eventually lead to injury.
The bottom line here is that movement is all about creating and controlling forces into motion. All movement starts by engaging the core to give our body a solid foundation. The body creates force by contracting muscles and turning it into movement, and then transferring and controlling that force to other parts of the body to build momentum. When done efficiently, it is a beautiful symphony of segments working together. When done improperly, it can cause areas to get overworked, tight, achy, and can eventually lead to injury.