Your core, what is it? Is it just your abs? Is it your low back and abs? When looking at the core it is important to realize that the abs play just a small part in the core. Your “core” actually consists of several muscles that help to stabilize the spine, pelvis, and shoulder providing a foundation for movement of the extremities (arms and legs). In order to strengthen one’s core all of these muscles MUST be worked. A stronger core will allow one to stand upright and move with more ease. A strong core is essential to allow energy to transfer as well as enabling one to shift their weight in any direction.
So what muscles are in your core? The following are the primary muscles and common movements to strengthen them:
* Rectus Abdominus – located in the front of the abdomen, this is most commonly referred to as the “six-pack”. While many think you have upper and lower abs, it is actually this one muscle that you are able to see on individuals that have a low body fat %. Crunches on the floor, ball, with feet in air, etc.… will target this area. This area also gets worked when you keep your stomach tight and in virtually any movement that engages the abs.
*Transverse Abdominus (TVA) – located under the obliques, this is the deepest abdominal muscle. It actually wraps around your spine for protection. This is a hard area to target and while not visible to the naked eye is extremely important in developing a solid foundation. In order to incorporate the TVA think of sucking your belly button into up into your back. When you using a stability ball, bosu ball, Pilates ring or an unstable service the TVA is engaged in order to help you stabilize. This is why crunches on a ball or more effective then on the floor.
*External Obliques – located on the side and front of the abdomen. These will be targeted when doing a twisting movement, such as: bicycle kicks, crossing one leg over and crunching and twisting, torso twist, etc…
* Internal Obliques – located under the external obliques. Targeted in the same manner.
*Hip Flexors – located in the front of the pelvis and upper thigh. Includes the Iliopsoas, rectus femoris, and tensor fascia lata. You engage your hip flexors when you pull your knees to your chest and when doing a squatting movement. Raising your leg in any direction will also work the hip flexors.
* Hip Adductors – located inner thigh. Your adductors are worked when doing a plie squat (feet and toes out), brining your knees together, squeezing your inner thigh, etc.…
*Erector Spinae – These three muscles run along your neck and lower back. Hyperextension, super mans, opposite arm and leg raises, seated rows, etc.… are all great movements to target this important area. The stronger one’s back the less the abs have to work to stabilize. Many individuals sit at a desk or in their car all day and compress these muscles. It is important to not only strengthen, but to stretch these muscles to prevent injury to the back.
*Multifdus – located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column. These allow one to extend and rotate the spine and are targeted with the same movements listed under the Erector spinae.
*Gluteus Medius and Minimus – located at the side of the hip. These muscles are what most people will refer to as your “butt”. They will be targeted with squats, lunges, pushing the leg away from you (behind), step ups, etc…
*Gluteus Maximus, Hamstring group, Piriformis – located in the back of the hip and thigh. Same movements as above for the Gluteus Maximus. To target the other two muscles, leg curls and stiff leg dead lifts are two great movements to target them.
IMPORTANCE OF A STRONG CORE:
- Help reduce strain on the spine. All powerful movements originate from the core and work their way out to the extremities.
- Training the core can correct postural imbalances
- Biggest advantage is the strength and conditioning it has in functional (every day life) fitness
- The core is strengthened more effectively when the torso works as one unit: both front and back muscles contract simultaneously.
- Doing abs alone is not good enough to strengthen your core. You must strengthen all the muscles!
- If you have excess body fat you will not see a “six-pack”! Doing abs will not give you a “six-pack”! Diet and cardio are essential to losing the body fat over the muscle to allow the “six-pack” to be visible.
Scott Keppel is the owner of Scott’s Training Systems, a world-class coaching facility in Chandler, Arizona. He is a nationally certified trainer through NASM and ISSA. His mission is to empower women of all ages and fitness levels. For more information head to scottstrainingsystems.com or check him out on Instagram at @stsnation.