The core is more than just the six-pack muscles most of us want to have. It is made up of seven muscles that work together to create lateral flexion (side bending), flexion (like a sit-up), extension (think Superman), and rotation. Those seven muscles include the rectus abdominis (commonly known as the abs), internal and external obliques, pelvic floor, transverse abdominis, the diaphragm, erector spinae, and the multifidus. They all work together to create a “core” unit the arms, legs, and neck attach to.
The benefits of a strong core include protecting your vital organs, because the trunk of the body doesn’t have a lot of bone support. The upper part of the trunk relies on the thoracic spine and ribcage to protect the heart and lungs, and the shoulder blade provides stability to the shoulder joint. The only bones in the lower part of the trunk are found in our spines, meaning the rest of our vital organs are protected by muscle.
The core is the cornerstone for all movement. You can’t be strong or walk efficiently without a solid base of stability provided by the group of seven core muscles. Training all of them in a variety of ways will not only keep them strong but also keep you performing at a high level regardless of your chosen activities (gardening, powerlifting, marathons, and everything in between).
Adding some core training into your workouts is simple, and a little goes a long way. The best place to add a few basic core exercises is in your warm-up, when you’re preparing the body to work out, and at the end, since they are the most basic muscles to isolate without an increased risk of injury.
For people who work at a desk most of the day, strengthening the back side of the core will help with posture and may reduce risk of potential injury due to poor posture. The muscles on the back side of the core (erector spinae and multifidi muscles) assist with holding the body upright. Proper alignment helps the core do three things that have a direct impact on how the rest of the body functions: produce force (i.e. lifting weights), reduce force (i.e. catching yourself from a fall), and transduce force (i.e. throwing a ball). Doing exercises to produce a stable and strong core will benefit you in all aspects of life.
Here are some exercises to strengthen your core:
- Flexion and anti-flexion
- Superman hold
- Frog/butterfly sit up
- Extension and anti-extension
- V-up hold
- 45-degree back extension
- Lateral flexion and anti-lateral flexion
- Single arm farmer’s carry
- Dumbbell side bend
- Rotation and anti-rotation
- Paloff Press
- Lateral medicine ball toss
Each of these can be done for several sets of 8-15 reps a few days each week. You can progress these core exercises just like any other strength exercise, which is the key to getting stronger.
Whether you want six-pack abs, want to reduce risk of injury, or want to move better, adding core exercises to your fitness routine will help you enjoy the benefits of a strong core. If you’re interested in learning more about the core and how to train it, reach out to one of VASA’s certified Personal Trainers and they can help you build a core routine into your workouts.