I hear folks refer to their core as just their abdominal muscles (abs) all the time. The ab muscles are definitely part of the core, but the core is not just the front side of your body. In fact, the core wraps all the way around your body to include muscles that run from the base of the neck to the top of your buttocks. Just as your house needs a strong foundation to build upon, your body needs a strong core for you to maintain balance and to stabilize yourself as you move about throughout the day. Most back issues can be tied directly to a weak core. For this week’s writing, I am going to give you some information about the key muscles of the core, where they are located on your body and their function when it comes to balance and stabilizing. I will also give you some exercises to help you strengthen your core.
The core muscles I want to introduce you to are the abs (Rectus Abdominis, Transverse Abdominis (TVA) & Obliques) and spinal erectors (erector spinae); which are part of the muscle group known as the pelvic floor muscles. Included in the core muscle group are some muscles I have introduced to you in previous articles. They are the traps (trapezius); lats (latissimus dorsi); and your glutes (gluteus maximus). These muscles are not all encompassing of the core musculature, but I hope to give you great insight when putting your strength training program together and incorporating movements that hit this group. It is imperative that you start the exercise piece of your fitness journey by building a strong foundation. Having the strength to balance and stabilize your body will make the journey a much easier path to travel along.
The pelvic floor group listed above allows for the trunk of the body to perform different movement patterns. The abdominal group is located on the anterior or front of your midsection and covers an area ranging from your sternum to the pubic bone and from the ribs to your pelvic bone area. Exact points of origin and insertion go deeper than I want to cover in this article, but I hope you get the idea of where your abs are located. There functions run from trunk flexion to rotation and side bending. I like to say that the TVA serves as the body’s girdle providing intra-abdominal pressure (compression of the abdomen). The abs group all work together to provide not only lumbar spine stabilization but the entire lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. The spinal erectors are located along the spinal column (posterior) and are divided into the lumbar, thoracic and cervical groups. They work together to provide spinal extension, rotation and lateral flexion. They provide stabilization of the spine during movement.
Having a strong efficient core is vital in order to maintain muscle balance throughout the body’s kinetic chain. This is your body’s movement system and they all have to work together in order for you to move efficiently throughout the day. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) defines the core as “the body’s center of gravity” and that this is where all movement begins. NASM explains that the core musculature is divided into two categories: the stabilization system (inside) and the movement system (out). Of the pelvic floor muscles named in paragraph two above, all but the Rectus Abdominus are part of the stabilization system. The remaining named muscles are part of the movement system. These two systems must work together, in other words from the inside out, to allow the body’s kinetic chain to properly function while you go about your activities of the day.
Designing an exercise program for the core is broken down into three different levels: stabilization, strength and power. Learning to stabilize starts first with a “drawing in movement”. I key my clients for this movement by telling them to make their belly button touch their spine. This movement activates the TVA and inner obliques, as well as other pelvic floor muscles, and fires them up to provide a stabilizing platform for the movement system to get you going.
Some very basic stabilization exercises that you can perform at home will require very little movement as you get started. You can do an internet search to get some pictures of the actual movements. I have clients perform a variety of these such as bridges (both on the floor and on a stability ball), prone cobras, hover planks, and reverse hyperextensions on a stability ball. Remember to draw the belly button in prior to execution.
Some strength movements for the core I utilize are crunches on the floor and on a stability ball, I prefer the stability ball as you get a great pre-stretch prior to the crunch. Crunches can be done with your arms folded across your chest or extended in what is called a long lever crunch. Picture your shoulders rolling up like you were rolling up a towel and keep the hips down. You can add some rotation to this with an opposite elbow to knee movement pattern. I also like to have clients perform reverse crunches. If you are working out at a gym or have access to a cable machine performing wood chops are a great movement as well. I have clients perform these from a top-down movement and then reverse it to a bottom-up movement. Again, a simple internet search will give you some great pictures of how to properly perform these movements.
The next progression is for power core movements. For these I like to incorporate medicine balls with clients performing throwing movements. This can be standing or incorporating a stability ball. If they are standing, movements can be rotational throws across the body or overhead slams to the floor. These power movements come only after they have been through stabilization and strength training. So make sure you have mastered level one and two before this power level. Remember you need to perform the stabilizing “drawing-in” maneuver prior to initiating the movements required for strength and power.
The movement system muscle (the lats, traps and glutes) listed above have been written to in previous Chesapeake Current articles. I will ask you to refer back to those that talked to the Big Six Movement patterns. Please reread the squat and pull movement articles that detailed exercises for these muscle groups.
If you have any questions please seek the advice of a Certified Fitness Professional where you train. If you do not belong to a gym, and you would like to get more information, please feel free to contact me directly at my training center and arrange for a free consultation. As always, I wish you great health and fitness. Bob