Edited bySteven Milner IIST
Core exercises stabilize the spine
The best core exercises may surprise you. It’s not enough to just do ab crunches and sit ups. To build a strong core you need to exercise a variety of muscles from your hips to your shoulders. Most people think of the core as a nice six-pack, or strong, toned abs, but the truth is that the abdominal muscles are a very small part of the core. The abs have very limited and specific action, and what experts refer to as the “core” actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis, and run the entire length of the torso. When these muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support. When this happens, we are able to generate powerful movements of the extremities.
The core muscles also make it possible to stand upright and move on two feet. These muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. A strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and protects the back. Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all these muscle groups to be effective.
What Are the Core Muscles?
Different experts include different muscles in this list, but in general the muscles of the core run the length of the trunk and torso. The following list includes the most commonly identified core muscles as well as the lesser known groups.
Rectus Abdominis – located along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the “six-pack” due to it’s appearance in fit and thin individuals.
Erector Spinae- This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back.
Multifidus – located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine.
External Obliques – located on the side and front of the abdomen.
Internal Obliques – located under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.
Transverse Abdominis (TVA) – located under the obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
Hip Flexors – located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh. The muscles that make up the hip flexors include: psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus, sartorius
Gluteus medius and minimus – located at the side of the hip
hamstring group, piriformis – located in the back of the hip and upper thigh leg.
Hip adductors - located at medial thigh.
Benefits of Good Core Strength
A Strong Core Reduces Back Pain
Abdominals get all the credit for protecting the back and being the foundation of strength, but they are only a small part of what makes up the core. In fact, it is weak and unbalanced core muscles that are linked to low back pain. Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.
- A Strong Core Improves Athletic Performance
Because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the spine from the pelvis to the neck and shoulder, they allow the transfer of power to the arms and legs. All powerful movements originate from the centre of the body out, and never from the limbs alone. Before any powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the extremities, the spine must be solid and stable and the more stable the core, the most powerful the extremities can contract.
- A Strong Core Improves Postural Imbalances
Training the muscles of the core helps correct postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness; the type of fitness that is essential to daily living and regular activities.
Exercises that Build Core Strength
Core strengthening exercises are most effective when the torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles contract at the same time, multi joint movements are performed and stabilization of the spine is monitored. Abdominal bracing is a basic technique used during core exercise training. To correctly brace, you should attempt to pull your navel back in toward your spine. This action primarily recruits transverse abdominus. You should be able to breathe evenly while bracing and no hold your breath.
There are many exercises that will strengthen the core. A large number of core strengthening exercises can be done at home with no equipment while some require the use of equipment and gadgets.
What Are the Best Core Exercises?
Core exercises are most effective when they engage many muscles throughout the torso that cross several joints and work together to coordinate stability. Core muscles need to work as a unit, contract at the same time, across joints in order to stabilize the spine. Some of the best core exercises are simple bodyweight exercises, including the following.
Dragon Flag Advanced Core Exercise. Credited to martial arts master, Bruce Lee. the Dragon Flag, is arguably one of the more advanced bodyweight exercises you can do.
The Quick Core Workout
If you want a simple, effect core workout, this routine doesn’t take much time or equipment but covers all the basic core muscles.
Plank Exercise: Start Position | Finish Position
Side Plank Exercise: Start Position | Finish Position
The Basic Push Up
Plank on a Balance Ball
Lunge with Twist
- Equipment for a Better Core
Other exercises that develop core strength include the use of equipment such as a stability ball, medicine balls, kettlebells, wobble boards, Yoga and Pilate’s. Some products to consider:
Balance Products such as the Bosu Ball, balance boards, wobble boards and others
Hodges PW, Richardson CA. Contraction of the abdominal muscles associated with movement of the lower limb. Physical Therapy, February 1997
Hodges PW, Richardson CA. Relationship between limb movement speed and associated contraction of the trunk muscles. Ergonomics. November, 1997