In today’s post we are going to discuss what muscles comprise the core and what exercises are best to strengthen them.
What is the core?
The core is more than the Rectus Abdominis (six-pack abs) that everyone thinks about. What muscles actually comprise the core will vary slightly from trainer to trainer, but if you basically picture a body without arms or legs (gruesome, I know) that will give you a general idea of all the muscles involved. Some of the major muscle groups that I consider part of the core are as follows:
- Rectus Abdominis (flexes the spine forward)
- External/Internal Obliques (assists is the flexing/rotation of the spine)
- Transverse Abdominis (acts as a corset to pull in the stomach and protect the vital organs)
- Erector Spinae (helps keep posture erect, assists in lateral rotation, and protects spine)
- Trapezius (assists in the stabilization of the spine and movement of the neck)
- Gluteus Maximus (supports the pelvis as well as assists in correcting pelvic tilt)
- Psoas Major (assists in stabilizing the hips)
Why train the core?
The core is aptly named because it is the most important series of muscles in your body. A strong core will increase the rotational force produced when executing a kick, punch, or throw.
A strong core will protect your vital organs when you receive a hit. A strong Transverse Abdominis muscle will improve your resilience to kidney shots as well as help protect you from getting the wind knocked out of you.
Finally, a strong core also helps in posture and stabilization. If your core is weak, you will not be able to perform heavy squats or deadlifts, thus hampering your progress. Also, correct posture helps prevent injuries, and improves blood flow and oxygen intake (hard to fill up them lungs slouched over).
How to train the core
First off, forget the crunches. They only work the upper portion of one Rectus Abdominis; ineffective and inefficient. Lucky for you, if you are doing exercises like pushups, squats, and deadlifts, you are already training your core to help stabilize the weight. Here are some additional exercises you can do to isolate the core muscles:
- Planks – A great overall core exercise. Difficulty can be increased by increasing the distance between your elbows/hands and feet.
- Lying Leg Raises – Lay down flat on your back and lift your legs straight up to 90º and lower them back down. Works the lower Rectus Abdominis and to a lesser extent the Obliques.
- Ab Wheel – This works like the plank, but is a dynamic exercise and much more intense. Because of the contracting motion when bringing the wheel back in, you will also work your Rectus Abdominis muscles.
- Hanging Leg Raises – Same motion as the Lying Leg Raises except you will be fighting gravity more. Also a good workout for the forearms.
- Supermans – Lie on your stomach and lift your arms and legs up off the floor like you are flying. Works the Erector Spinae.
- Hip Bridges – Lie on the floor like you’re doing a situp. Push your hips off the floor and tighten your glutes.
- Stomach Vaccuum – This is an old bodybuilder trick they used to prevent distended stomachs. Simply suck in your stomach as tight as you can like you are trying to make your belly button touch your spine. This strengthens the Transverse Abdominis muscles.
How often to work out your abs
Again, this is a point of great debate. Some say everyday while others argue to treat it like any other muscle and give it time to rest and recuperate.
I’m more middle of the road. If you’re just starting off, you will probably need to give them time to rest. If you’ve been training them for a while you might be able to work them out daily.
Listen to your body and let that dictate your course of action. If you have a day where they feel sore and fatigued, it’s probably best to let them rest.
Every professional athlete has a strong core and you can bet they don’t get one by doing crunches every day. Give some of these exercises a try and let me know what you think.
Got your own favorite exercise for the core? Leave it in the comments section below.