When you hear the word “core” in relation to fitness, you could be forgiven for thinking of your abdominal muscles. I hear my trainer’s voice echoing in my head counting down a three minute plank… causing shivers to run through those afore-mentioned ab muscles.
However, while abs are an important component of our core, and promote good health when they are strong, our core is so much more than that. This means that strengthening your core is more involved than just knocking out some crunches or sit-ups.
The dummies version – your core is made up of your abdominal muscles, and everything else except for your arms, legs and head.
However in reality, the core is a very complex set of muscles. So it cannot be explained away so simply. Your core forms a support platform for every movement you make. When you move your arms and legs, it’s only possible if your core is healthy. The stronger your core, the stronger and more capable your arms and legs are.
Let’s get a bit sciencey for a minute. and talk about our “Kinetic Chain”
Your Kinetic Chain Relies On a Healthy Core
The complex city of your core system of muscles can be explained by taking a look at your body’s standard movement system. Any movement you make is based on a complex set of processes. This movement system is called the Kinetic Chain. Without a strong core, your Kinetic Chain is weak, and you will find it difficult to perform simple, everyday movements.
Your Kinetic Chain passes directly through your core.
It begins at the top of your spine, moves down through your hip joints, on into your knees, terminating in your feet and ankles. All of these muscles, joints and neural components work together. As long as you are active, they work together to produce motion. Without healthy core muscles, any movement you attempt to make which requires involvement with your Kinetic Chain will be powerless, weak, ineffectual and possibly even unsuccessful.
The core is also more than a target for fitness aficionados, and creating that sexy six pack that looks great on the beach or at the pool.
It protects important internal organs, promotes a healthy respiratory system, helps the removal of bodily waste and is important for women during childbirth.
A healthy core also keeps your spine, pelvis and rib cage stable, protecting them from the impact of everyday movements and physical stress.
Your core additionally acts as an internal pressure system that promotes the healthy functioning of several biological systems. If your spine were to lose its core musculature, you would be crippled. This is because the simple ligaments and bones which make up your spine can only withstand a 20 pound load (9 kg).
Core strengthening is not just for athletes either.
When you bend over to pick something up, play with your children or grandchildren and move throughout your daily routine, it’s your core that allows you to do so. The stronger your core, the more stable and mobile you are in everything you do. Nearly every movement of your body, even if you are just sitting at your cubicle and typing on your keyboard, is powered by your core musculature.
These muscles stabilize movement and transfer force. They can be used to initiate movement as well.
Some of your core muscles are “hidden”. This explains why some people may be very powerful, but not have an outward muscular appearance.
As well as supporting and allowing for movement in the human body, studies show that the stronger your core, the lower your risk of physical injury throughout your body. So, what exactly is involved in your core makeup? Let’s take a closer look.
What Muscles Make Up Your Body’s Core?
Your major core muscles include …
- Pelvic floor muscles
- Transversus abdominis
- Internal obliques
- External obliques
- Rectus abdominis
- Erector spinae (sacrospinalis)
- Hip flexors
That is quite an impressive list. Now you might begin to understand why your core is so important for multiple movements. In addition to those main core muscles, inor core muscles are the …
- Latissimus dorsi
- Gluteus maximus
All of these muscles are located in your torso. The most important core muscles are found in your stomach, as well as the middle and lower back. Other core muscles are found in your hips, shoulders and neck.
The 4 core muscles of the stomach include the rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques and the transversus abdominis. The rectus abdominis is a large layer of muscle tissue. It extends from your breastplate down to your pelvis. Your internal obliques travel from your ribs backwards to your hips, with your external obliques extending from your ribs to your hips in a forward direction. The transversus abdominis is located beneath your obliques.
What Core Muscles Allow You to Do
Different core muscles provide different support for biological processes and movement. For example, pregnant women engage the transversus abdominis during labor and delivery. The deep transversus abdominis muscles in men and women are important for trunk stability. They support good posture and your internal organs, and even help you sneeze, cough and laugh.
If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you could experience a lack of bladder control. Weak pelvic floor muscles are the reason some senior citizens and ensure individuals cannot control their bowel movements. Hip flexors are engaged when you are walking, running or taking the stairs.
Your rectus abdominis (trunk flexors) muscles allow you to bend forward. Once you are bent over, your ability to stand up straight for bend over backwards is supported by the erector spinae section of your core. Your internal and external obliques allow you to twist left and right, and your multifidi muscle system is responsible for spinal stability any time you move.
For complex movements many of these muscles work in tandem. They support and rely on each other, and become stronger the more you work them. If you stay active and are on the move, your natural movements will strengthen your core. If you live a life of little physical activity, sedentary most of the time, your core will be weak. This leads to a decreased ability to perform a multitude of biological functions, and an increased risk for injury.
How Your Core and Spine Work Together
We have seen how complex your core musculature really is. Actually, when you get right down to it, the only job of your complex core is to stabilize and protect your spine. You have seen how your core is related to even the most minuscule movements you make. It is so important for spinal health that when your core weakens to the point of allowing a serious spinal injury, you lose much, if not all, of your ability to make even the simplest of movements.
The muscles which support your spine while driving movement are known as the anterior core muscles. This musculature comprises core muscles which are located on your sides as well as the front of your abdomen. They are also responsible for regulating pressure inside your chest and your stomach. This is what allows a pregnant woman to push during childbirth, as mentioned in the example earlier.
These anterior core muscles work together with muscles located in your back and rear end to offer spinal stability and support. Along with the lumbar muscles in your back, they are crucial for building up your core strength.
While all of your core muscles are spinal protectors, nothing does the job as well as the transversus abdominis. Some wonderful side benefits are a healthy and strong lower back and more definition in your abdominals. Since it is located beneath the rectus abdominis, your exterior or superficial abdominal muscles, it is often overlooked in core development.
However, your transversus abdominis plays the biggest role in your overall core strength.
You are probably wondering how you can strengthen this important core muscle. Practice the simple activity below and in no time you will benefit from a stronger transversus abdominis.
How to Engage Your Transversus Abdominis (TrA)
You do not need to lift weights or perform 1,000 crunches or sit-ups to properly work your TrA. Simply lie face down on a flat surface. Imagine an invisible string pulling your belly button up into your spine. That is the compression movement you want to make to engage your important TrA core muscles.
Breathe normally, and don’t hold your breath. You should be able to talk casually with someone while you are engaging this muscle. Begin by holding this position for 5 seconds. Perform 15 to 20 of these core strengthening movements. Eventually you will be able to engage and strengthen your TrA when standing, walking, exercising or performing any other activity.
This will benefit your spinal stability, reduce your risk of physical injury and promote a healthy respiratory system. A strong TrA in turn strengthens your other core muscles, since all your core muscles work together and not independently.
Some of the benefits of core strength include the following …
- Proper balance
- Improved posture
- Less back pain
- Healthy breathing and respiratory system
- Reduction in physical injuries
- Improved range of motion and mobility
- Healthy stability
- A strong back
These are just a few of the many health benefits of a strong core. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to see how important core strength is. Simply getting out of the bed in the morning and taking a walk around the block are activities which are easier when you have a healthy core.
You experience fewer injuries, enjoy better balance and posture, less back pain and a strong respiratory system. Core strength also leads to an improved standard of living and way of life.