Your core is the group of muscles that are the basis of your strength mobility and fitness. Whether you are male or female – a light gym goer or a bodybuilder don’t neglect your core muscles.
Core strength training can be an entirely different thing to different people.
Ask twenty people what it entails and there’s a good chance you will get 20 different responses.
That’s not because they are all wrong answers, but more likely because they are all, in some way, correct.
Physical trainers, coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, elite athletes and kinesiologists can’t seem to all agree all the time on what the core muscles are, so exactly how the rest of us are meant to figure it out is a mystery.
A point which can be agreed on by everybody is that they are really important.
So with that let’s see if we can make some sense of what the core is and how we can make it work for us in ways we didn’t even know were possible.
The Core – Or At Least One Version
What does core mean?
Centre, middle, essential, base…all good answers, I’m sure you’ll agree.
That’s actually where some of the confusion comes from though.
To some people, the core might just mean the really important muscles somewhere in and around the main trunk of a person’s body.
By this reasoning. a weight lifter would include the quads, gluten, abdomen, spinal erectors and sometimes even the obliques and pecs.
To another, the core means the literal core, i.e the central muscles inside the body, hidden by the outer muscles and adipose tissue.
This, in my opinion, is the more accurate of the two.
To explain the true core muscles, we should begin with a little known group called the Transverse Abdominis.
Imagine that between the bottom of your pelvis and your chest, you have a vertical cylinder of muscle on top of which the rest of your structure is built.
Your spine runs up the back of this cylinder and your rib cage sits in the top of it.
We actually have such a cylinder of muscle and a large portion of it is made up of the transverse abs. It’s like a thin sheet that wraps around our vital organs.
The rectus abdominis (the six pack abs) sit at the front of this, with the erector spinae, quadratus lumborum and latissimus dorsi at the rear.
On the sides sit the internal and external obliques.
Put together, these muscles pretty much form the muscular connection between your upper and lower body, not to mention protection of your vital organs.
Much of your strength in movements such as squats, dead lifts and many many more is highly dependent on the strength of these muscles.
Back to the Transverse Abs though.
This is muscle we use without even knowing it. In nearly every movement and every stationary position we hold, we are using the TA.
Just sitting at a desk in a proper position requires this muscle to have at least some level of intrinsic strength.
Importance of Core for BodyBuilding
There’s a lot to talk about with respect to the T. Abs.
This is nonetheless a bodybuilding website and as such, the context is clear.
These hidden muscles are vital.
Whenever you engage in a primary lift – and to be honest, any lift – you are engaging the muscle.
Suck your belly in slightly without actually breathing in and you can feel it at work.
When you exert force and lift dynamically with your legs for example, this area engages isometrically.
That is to say that it is put under load, but does not actually contract like the quadriceps or other mechanical muscles so.
Instead, the Transverse Abs simply brace your inner core and keep you from snapping in two.
Before you can become an effective and experienced weight lifter, you must first strengthen this muscle.
As far as the definition of ‘The Core’ goes, this is as literal as it gets. Both vitally important and centrally positioned.
Strengthening the Core
The Core is mostly activated isometrically.
Certain, more external aspects of it, are used dynamically e.g. the rectus abdominis, when you bend at the waist, or the spinal erectors when you dead lift. The transverse abs however are all isometric.
So, strengthen them isometrically.
A ton of sit-ups won’t help this muscle, and keep remembering it is very very important. With that said, it’s mostly down to planks and balls.
The simplest and most underrated exercise in the universe.
Not technically difficult, not exciting, but 100% useful.
Just a few minutes of plank each time you go to the gym will – after a few weeks – give you strength gains you were previously unaware could happen.
It’s also great for lower back protection as it keeps the spine rigidly in place and less prone to move around and cause problems.
If the full plank is too much to begin with then you can start with leg raises from a ‘doggie’ position, or half-plank on your knees.
Those big inflatable balls that sometimes get loose and roll past your head when you’re gasping on the floor from a bazillion sit-ups. Yeah, they’re actually useful.
If you’re worried about your image just think about the massive weight you’ll be lifting after you use the balls for a couple of weeks.
And if that doesn’t do it for you then you’d better get back to your bicep curls quick sharp because you’re a lost cause.
Ways to use swiss balls number between countless and infinite. Starting with the basics will help, and there are always posters in the gym showing you some.
They are useful for balance and core muscle strength, which in fact aren’t mutually exclusive.
Find the right ball: you should be able to sit on it and touch the soles of your feet to the floor, but not be sat low enough that your hamstrings are less than parallel to the floor.
There are so many exercises it’s almost redundant to talk about them here. One good one is to sit on it and then lay back so you are in the bench press position.
Using dumbbells you can do alternate presses while all the time keeping your balance with your core.
Another exercise is to do mini sit-ups from the same position on the ball.
Note: the ball should be positioned beneath you so that you are not simply resting back on it. It’s true that you will know the sweet spot when it feels like a lot of effort just to remain stationary.
I could write about the core all day, it’s that important.
If core isolation exercises are missing from your routine then it could explain why you cannot reach your full potential in other areas of physical conditioning.
It might also explain those consistent injuries, or weaknesses when you do specific lifts and movements.
It’s no good being able to bench press 250 lbs if you knock your back out of whack bend over awkwardly.
A solid core will improve your general strength and make you feel like a complete unit.