Strengthening your Inner Unit

Introducing the Inner Unit and its vital role in maintaining core strength. Photo by Dave Rosenblum

Developing core strength is a must for any athlete. For the rest of us, having strong abs helps to prevent lower back pain, while increasing stability, strength, balance and coordination. A strong core is a vital component in living a longer, more active and healthy life.

Training your abs is something you can do every day, unlike other muscles that require rest in between. With a strong core your posture will improve and with correct posture, you’ll see vast improvements in your athletic performance, indeed in your daily activities. A strong core is the key in reaching those strength training and cardiovascular goals. Your body can’t perform properly if it’s weak and bent over.

The Inner Unit stabilizes your trunk and should never be ignored

There is a region of your core called the Inner Unit that often gets neglected. It has an interdependent relationship with the rest of your abdominal muscles and lower regions of your back, namely your transversus abdominis and the posterior fibres of the obliquus internus abdominis, pelvic floor muscles, multifidus and lumbar portions of the longissimus and iliocostalis, as well as the diaphragm. In plain English, it affects everything below the diaphragm and above the thighs.

The Inner Unit is by far the most important part of the core

While we have been brainwashed into thinking that doing thousands of crunches every day is the only way to a washboard stomach, the danger lies in overtraining these muscles. When the larger muscles of the abdomen are overtrained, it causes an imbalance between the inner and outer units. In effect, the inner muscles are no longer able to support the larger part of the core. Further, if you neglect to train the Inner Unit, you will be more prone to lower back pain and even spinal injuries brought on by instability. With lower back problems come debilitating pain, reduced strength and poor posture.

The Inner Unit is hard to train because it is controlled by a different neurological system than the larger outer muscles and is not often called into play when we perform crunches and other regular abdominal exercises. The way to train the Inner Unit requires more concentration than effort and it may seem that you’re not doing anything at all, but persevere and you’ll soon begin to notice a difference.

You may know this set of exercises as the 4 Point Transversus Abdominis Trainer, or the 4 Point Tummy Vacuum or if you’re into yoga, you’ll know it as the Cat Series. Performing stabilizing exercises like plank is also effective.

4 Point Tummy Vacuum

  • Starting on all fours on the floor, check your body alignment and make sure you form a square with your body – your hips sit above your knees and your hands are right below your shoulders.
  • Now inhale, letting the belly relax and fill up with air, while keeping the back flat.
  • Exhale, squeezing your tummy in towards your spine, all the way down to your pubic bone, keeping your back flat the whole time. Do not allow your back to sag and hyper-extend. This is crucial.
  • Hold this position for a couple of breaths, making sure to keep your abs engaged and your back flat.
  • Repeat from the beginning for 10 repetitions and 1 – 2 sets.
  • For ultimate effect, these exercises should be performed every day.
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