For any of you with weak core strength or stabilisation, you need to pay close attention to this article, as understanding what the core is, and actioning on everything that you read, may be the difference between producing a flawless performance on stage, or ever reaching your full potential.
Now for many of you, you may not even realise you have a weak core or even what it is, but hopefully by the end of this article you will know exactly what you must look out for, so that you can protect your body at all times and maximise performance.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE CORE?
When we mention the word ‘core’ most people automatically think of the abdominal muscles, but this could not be further from the truth. The core is a complex series of muscles that extend far beyond your abs.
The best way to describe the location of the core is like this:
If I was to remove your arms and legs from your body, the torso that you are left with is all your core, and that is a lot of muscle when you consider that this includes glutes, lower back, upper back, and neck, and we have still yet to mention everything that is below the surface!
There are many layers to the core, but we can classify them in different areas. Your core is made up of your main abdominal muscles at the front of the midsection, the muscles located at the sides of the torso such as the obliques, and then we have a deep layer of superficial muscles that act like a corset, surrounding the body and protecting the spine.
We also then have muscle groups that you would not expect to form part of the core, such as your glutes, upper back, lower back and neck.
THE ROLE OF THE CORE
The core forms part of almost every movement in the body and its role can be defined into two sections.
- The cores primary job is to stabilise the spine and pelvis, keep the body upright, and protect the entire area against injury.
- The second function of the core is to control the force you produce, and transfer force around the entire body (from the upper to the lower and vice versa). So as the legs and arms move away from the body, the core works hard to stabilise the movement and centre the body, stopping any unnecessary forces on the spine.
1. Stabilise and protect
Learning how to stabilise and brace the spine reduces one of the greatest threats to your dance career – a back injury.
When you lose the ability to brace, you lose the ability to stabilise your hips, shoulders, torso and neck. This is not only important for daily life but even more important in Irish dancing when you are not allowed any movement in the upper body on stage.
Having an unprotected spine will force so many mechanical issues in your dancing posture, creating unnecessary movement on stage.
You have to understand that if your spine is not in a braced position then your dancing is going to be unstable and unnecessary movement and energy loss will occur.
2. Transferring of force
If your legs and arms are producing too much power than what your core can control, your body is going to be unstable. Which means that you are expending too much energy than what you need to. This unnecessary movement will result in you burning out much quicker than necessary, simply because you have to keep regenerating the power that you are losing through the cracks in your technique.
This instability and loss of energy we would refer to as strength leaks, and just like a leak in a pipe, it is going to drain your energy very fast, leaving little to come out the other end!
The best and easiest way to explain this is by looking at an example of a hose pipe.
Fig 1. Diagram showing the illustration of two hose pipe channels.
On the left, you will see the water powerfully going in at one end, and coming out the other end with equal force, with the middle of the pipe being solid and secure.
In the second photo you will see the water powerfully going in at one end, but as it reaches the middle it finds holes in the pipe and the water starts to leak out. The water that does manage to get through the pipe to the other end is less powerful because all the force is lost due to the holes in the middle of the pipe, meaning the water very poorly drops out the other end with unnecessary movement in the middle of the hosepipe.
If we now put a dancer in place of the hose pipes we can replicate the exact same scenario.
On the left, a dancer will be producing a tremendous amount of power in the lower body traveling up the body from one end, Now as this dancers core is solid and strong, no unnecessary movement occurs and the dancer is now able to contain all the force that has built up. As the core’s job is to transfer force, this force is carried into the next movement, where the process can happen again.
In the case of the second dancer, they are also creating the same amount of power coming through the lower body, traveling up from one end. Now as this dancers core is weak and unstable, a lot of unnecessary movement occurs and the force that has built up starts leaking through unwanted movement. As the core is weak it is not doing its main job of being able to transfer force, and so even though the dancer is creating a great deal of power the end result of the movement becomes diluted and is completed at less than optimal speed.
This example only shows the process that happens in a single movement. If we then combine the amount of movements that a dancer will create in their 60-120 seconds on stage it is clear to see how much quicker dancer two will run out of energy, because he/she is having to regenerate all of the lost power at the beginning of each step, whereas dancer one is able to contain this speed that has been built up right to the end of the dance.
The first step to improving your performance is to teach yourself how to contain the power that you are creating before worrying about trying to create even more. So many dancers are struggling to develop any real speed, power, acceleration and height, simply because they do not have a solid enough foundation from which to relate this from.
Always remember that you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.
“If your lower body is producing too much power than what your core can control, your upper body is going to be unstable”
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