The Basics of the Core
In fitness, "the core" is a term thrown around often and is a buzzword used to denote the abdominal muscles. We're told it is important and that we should have a strong one, but do you really know what the core is and what it does?
The core region consists of the pelvis, hips, spine, and rib cage. Approximately 29 muscles make up the core musculature. These muscles are divided into two categories, depending on their primary function. The stabilization category is composed of small muscles positioned relatively close to the spine. These muscles include the transverses abdominis (our internal weight belt that when engaged, makes our waist line slimmer), multifidus (little muscles that attach vertebrae together and stabilize them), internal obliques, and diaphragm, to name a few. These muscles are responsible for stability of the spine and core region. The movement category comprises muscles that are more superficial (closer to the surface) in the core region. Muscles in this category include the rectus abdominus (the six-pack muscles), external obliques (rotational, side muscles), and erector spinae muscles (muscles that run the length of the spine on the back of our body). These muscles fall into this group because of their function in the movement of the spine and core region.
Why is the Core Important?
The core is critical to the integrity of our structure. A properly functioning core allows us to generate forces, accept forces, and stabilize forces that are placed on our structure in every activity we perform. In other words, if the core musculature is not working properly, our ability to control our structure and stabilize our spine is hindered, thus increasing the risk of injury. Consider these facts:
- Low back pain affects nearly 80 percent of all adults.
- 43 percent of work-related injuries are sprains and strains, with over 60 percent involving the core.
- Men who spend over half their workday sitting in a car have a 300% increased chance of disc herniation.
After reviewing the above statistics, it becomes evident that, because of a sedentary lifestyle and a structure that is less than prepared to handle the stresses placed upon it, core training becomes a critical portion in a health and fitness program.
Core Training for Weight Loss
An efficiently functioning core can help firm both the entire abdominal region and the hip region (the glutes)—two problem areas for most people. While creating a stable and safe internal foundation for training, core training also burns more calories than traditional ab and back work. That is a definite plus for most exercisers, since weight loss is the number one reason people give for joining a health club!
Remember, we are teaching the small, deep muscles of the core to work properly so that, as you begin more complex exercises, such as crunches or back extensions, the spine is protected. Also, it is important to understand that core stabilization training helps the nervous system recruit muscles better, thereby increasing the amount of muscle fibers working, and, in turn, increasing the amount of work that can be done. Again, this equals more calories burned and better muscle definition!
Core Training for Hypertrophy (growth)
Core training is an important component in programs designed for hypertrophy. To grow, muscles need time under tension, increased load and volume, efficient muscle recruitment, proper nutrition intake, and rest. Because the core is where all movement begins, most exercisers are limited by their ability to stabilize, particularly at the spine. Remember, the core acts like an anchor for the arms and legs. If the anchor isn’t strong, the extremities will not be able to lift heavy loads.
Given that premise, people training for hypertrophy must make sure that the small muscles that protect the spine are working properly so as to control unwanted movement, and that the nervous system is communicating properly with the core muscles. Core training teaches the nervous system to recruit muscles in the proper synergy so movement is more efficient. However, one of the most important benefits of core training is the fact that, when muscles are recruited properly, the nervous system is recruiting more muscle fibers, thus allowing the body to lift heavier loads for longer periods of time, and creating hypertrophy in an increased number of muscle fibers.
Core Training for Increased Health
If you want to improve your health, you need to keep moving, which means you need to remain injury free. The bottom line is that, when exercisers get injured, they have a harder time reaching their goals, if they ever reach them at all. Injuries stop people from being able to work, play, or function. Core training works to increase movement efficiency by firing the small spinal and hip muscles to control unwanted movement during activities and protect the spine. This helps to avoid devastating obstacles such as injuries. Considering that about 80 percent of the population suffers from back pain or discomfort, it is important to create a solid muscular foundation to help exercisers perform their programs safely and efficiently.
Remember, we can’t neglect the internal muscles of the body. They need to be trained to stabilize the body, and then integrated to function in conjunction with the larger superficial muscles. This is how you can help to keep your body health and strong.