What is the core, why is it necessary, and how to work it?
Working out the core has become a common phrase you will hear in most gyms, unfortunately many people do not really know what the core is or why it is so important. There are varying muscles that different experts put into the core category. When you hear most people talk about strengthening the core what they are talking about is the muscles that comprise the trunk and not just the ones you see when you are lean and buff, we are also talking about the deep muscles that you can not see.
The muscles we see like our six pack are part of the core but you can have a six pack and not a strong core, so do not mistake how you look in a swimsuit with actual core strength. It is called the core, because it is just that, it is the core of your stability, it is the core of your power, it is the core of good posture. It is also your center of gravity. The core is any muscle that connects to the spinal column or the pelvis. You can think of the core as the body muscles minus the arms and legs. So we are looking at your abodominals, back muscles, hips and pelvic floor.
The core consists of 29 pairs of muscles some of these muscles include:
Rectus Abdominis ( six pack abdominals)
Transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscles)
Erector Spinae (back strap)
Multifdus (located under the back strap this muscle extends and rotates the spine. )
External and internal obliques (side abdominals)
Hip Flexors including Psoas major, Illiacus, Rectus femoris, pectineus, sartorius
These muscles are a combination of primary core muscles and secondary muscles. And as you can see the core is a much bigger group of muscles than you probably anticipated.
Why do you need a strong core? The core muscles are used for movement and stability of the trunk or torso, the core is also the source of much of your bodies overall power and strength. Having a strong core gives you control over your movements and power for propulsion. Having a weak core can put you at a greater risk of injury.
When we look at wanting a stronger core we are looking at having better balance, better movement and your muscles being stronger to give greater support for body exertion. When we have a strong core, daily activities are easier, balance is better and your posture is improved.
So how do you train your core? Our core has both slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers within it. So we need to hit both types of muscle with different exercises. The deeper muscles near the spine are slow twitch muscles, these are the muscles that provide support. They help with stabilization of the spine and help you reduce your risk of injury to the spine. We have a lot of fast twitch muscles on the outer layer of the core, like the erector spinae, rectus abdominis and the external obliques. These fast twitch muscles is what creates the power and speed. Slow twitch muscles tend to respond best to endurance type training, so for them you can do lighter weight and more reps. For fast twitch muscles respond better to heavier weights and less reps or more explosive movements. That being said you should have some exercises that are higher rep more endurance focused and have some weighted exercise that are lower in reps.
Let's look at some types of exercises that help strengthen the core.
Balancing activities use the core muscles. Swiss balls and bosu balls are great tools for working with balance. Of course for balancing there are a ton more tools that this but they are two commonly used favorites. Exercises that stabilizes or suspends you like a you like a plank, this would include a push up as well. Plyometric's use the core as well, but be careful when doing plyometrics since they tend to be a very advanced form of exercise. Plyometrics are explosive movements like squat leaps.
There are a crazy amount of exercises you can use to strengthen your core, a few of them are:
Make sure you squeeze your Butt (glutes) while you are coming off of the ground. You want the squeezing glutes to be the reason you are lifting up.
When you lift yourself up you want to come into a straight plank position, mirrors can help a lot with this since it is easy to over shoot or not come off of the ground high enough. Hold this position for as long as you can. Your abdominal's should be tight throughout this whole exercise.
You want to have your elbow placed right below your shoulder. Just like the plank position we already looked at, when you lift yourself up you want to come into a straight plank position, mirrors can help a lot with this since it is easy to over shoot or not come off of the ground high enough. Hold this position for as long as you can. Your abdominal's should be tight throughout this whole exercise. If this is way too easy then you can always add a little bit of weight in the hand that is resting on the hip.