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What You Were Taught about Muscles Was Wrong

PB069693I shouldn’t be telling you this, because if you follow the advice of this article, I will be losing business. A good percentage of my clients over the years are people who worked hard doing what they thought was the right thing.

For years experts told us to strengthen our core muscles, the deeper muscles that stabilize our bodies. Crunches or back extensions are the two primary exercises prescribed. Doing these exercises does make you stronger… but you also get tighter. Whenever you have a muscle do a job that it’s primarily not designed to do, you risk tightening and possibly injuring that muscle.

Eyal Lederman, DO, PhD, explains how recent studies don’t support all the hype about core muscles.[1] I agree with his claim that core vs. global muscles is reductionist and an arbitrary distinction. Muscles are divided by use, not core vs. global. Unlike the anatomy texts, muscles are interconnected through nerves and the fascia. One muscle may do one job in one movement and another in another movement. For example, in natural walking, the quadriceps muscles are stabilizers; but in climbing, they are primary movers.

Lederman also goes on to say that “weak muscles don’t create pain.” He’s right. He quotes research with pregnant women who had stretched out and weakened their core abdominal muscles. These women had less back pain than the general population.

The idea that you need to rehab your body from a soft tissue injury often produces some short-term gains because you are shifting the load. In the long term, your body just got tighter and more prone to more chronic or serious injuries. One long-term effect is misalignment and compression of joints. If core exercise is so good, why are we seeing a rise in hip replacements?[2]

Forty years ago Ida Rolf, PhD, was one of the first to speak about core muscles. People rolled their eyes back then. Now it’s the buzz phrase to get you to the gym. What is missing is what Dr. Rolf pointed out: it’s not about strengthening your core muscles, it’s about having access to use them. Most people’s bodies are so tight and misaligned that they don’t have functional use of their core. Core exercises only enhance their dysfunction.

If you want to be strong, do what you need to have muscular balance where each muscle group can do the job that it is designed to do. If your muscles are hard, tight, unevenly strong, or chronically injured, change what you do. Exercise is necessary, being injured is not.

Owen Marcus, MA Certified Advanced Rolfer, – call if you have questions: 265.8440. This article and many more health and wellness articles are at the blog:

[1] “Eyal Lederman: The Myth of Core Stability (LBP 033) – Liberated Body.”

[2] “FastStats – Inpatient Surgery.”

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