Core Muscle Training – What it Is And Why I Love It
Hold on for a second while I get comfortable on my soap box. I am determined that after you read this, your new found love in life will be your core. I will admit, there was a time though that I did not love ab workouts, and you could say my core was rather lacking. And then in college I studied Athletic Training and with each new injury I was introduced to I began to see the important role that the core muscles have in the overall function of your body. So now I will “force feed” you my love for strengthening core muscles.
What The Heck is My Core Anyway?
Photo credit: Kris Kesiak Photography
The core is defined as the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. It is where your center of gravity is located and where all movement originates from. There are 29 muscles that attach in your core, and it is what is responsible for all acceleration, deceleration, and stabilization (basically everything you do). Your core is commonly mistaken as your abs, but it really encompasses your low back (lumbo), lower abdominals (pelvic), and your hips. A strong core helps prevent against the most common injuries such as low back pain, muscle strains, and even knee and ankle injuries. It just helps everything function right.
Still Not Convinced?
If the scare of injuries doesn’t convince you then listen up. If you lift weights but you have a weak core you will never effectively utilize the strength, power, control, or endurance that you have tried so hard to improve. And all that time, effort, and probably protein supplements will ultimately go to waste because you will inevitably injure yourself due to your inefficient movements that stem from a weak core.
6 Pack + Back + Butt = Core
The core is made up of some key muscles.
The key back muscles are: the transversospinalis group, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and the latissimus dorsi. The transversospinalis group is made up of very small muscles that originate off of the spinal column while the erector spinae group lies directly next to the spine and runs parallel to it. Next, the quadratus lumborum is in your low back right above each hip and lastly, the latissimus dorsi has the greatest effect on the core out of all of the back muscles as it acts as a bridge between the upper body and the core. It is located below your shoulder blade and wraps from your spine up under your arms. All of these work together to stabilize and control trunk movements such as rotation or bending.
The abs make up the pelvic portion of the complex: the rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, and transversus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is the deepest muscle and runs up and down. Directly on top of that is the transversus abdominis which runs side to side (the same direction as a belt). On top of the transversus abdominis is the internal oblique and it runs diagonally from each hip to meet at a peak above your belly button. Lastly is the external oblique and it runs from your ribs and meets below your belly button. Both the obliques are located more towards the sides of your stomach. These also work together to stabilize and perform trunk movements. Of these, the most important is the transverse abdominis. This muscle is found to be contracted before the initiation of any limb movement as well as before contraction of all other abdominal muscles.
Lastly, the key muscles of the hip are: the psoas, gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings. The psoas crosses the hip at the front and runs up and down. The gluteus medius and gluteus maximus are both on the back of your hip and make up your “butt” while the hamstrings start beneath these muscles and run down the back of your thigh. All of these muscles produce movement at the hip but when they work together with the core, they help with trunk movements and control of motions produced in the lower limbs. When these muscles are weak, they predispose you to causing injury to both your knees and ankles – I bet you didn’t see that coming.
About Now is When You Should Want to Participate in Core Muscle Training
So, weak muscles in the core means pain, injury, bad posture, muscle imbalances, etc. And a strong core helps with controlled movements and efficient reaction to forces. That might be all fine and interesting to you, but HOPEFULLY I have passed on some of my obsession of the core and you are sitting on the edge of your seat wondering when the heck I’m going to tell how to make it all better.
How to Strengthen Core Muscles
If you really have no idea where to start I recommend going to a pilates class or even yoga to get a good direction. If just thinking about that gives you sweaty palms or you like to work out at your own pace then I’ll recommend a few exercises.
1. Plank: A great beginning exercise is the plank. With this exercise you are basically in a push-up position but you are lowered onto your forearms. Hold this position, being careful to keep your stomach contracted, for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and repeat 3 times.
Photo credit: Fit Approach
2. Side-Plank: This is performed by turning onto your side, supporting your body with that one arm by raising up onto your forearm, and lifting your hip up off of the ground. With this one it is critical to keep your body in line by keeping your hip raised high enough off of the ground and keeping your stomach contracted.
3. Hip Raises: With this exercise you begin by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Contract your low back and glutes to bring your hips up into the air so you are only supported by your feet and shoulders. Make sure to keep all of your core contracted and lower slowly then repeat.
4. Superman: Lay on your stomach with your arms extended above your head. Contract your back to lift your arms, chest, and legs off of the ground at the same time. Slowly lower and then repeat. If this is too difficult to begin with then you can modify it by lifting the opposite arm and leg at the same time and alternating sides.
There are loads and loads of great core exercises but these are just a few to begin with. And remember that none of these should cause pain in any joint or your low back. If this happens then stop immediately and get it checked out!
My parting thought: Please love your core!