It's Not All About the Abs

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Seems like nowadays “Core Training” is the trendy topic within fitness. We hear athletes talking about how they need to strengthen the core. We hear gym goers and those looking to shed a few pounds talking about how their “program” targets their core. It also seems, however, that not many of these folks actually know what the core really is. Having a strong core does NOT mean flashing a six pack. It actually has very little to do with that.

The term “core” refers to the muscles that attach to the spinal column or pelvis. The abdominal muscles are only a small part of it. It also includes hip and spinal musculature. For those of you that like to get geeky, here’s the muscles that make up your core:

Rectus Abdominis, Transversus Abdominis, Internal and External Abdominal Obliques

Iliopsoas, Rectus Femoris, Sartorius, Tensor Fasciae Latae, Pectineus, Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus, Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus, Biceps Femoris, Adductor Brevis, Adductor Longus, Adductor Magnus, Gemellus Superior, Gemellus Inferior, Obturator Internus, Obturator Externus, Quadratus Femoris, Piriformis

Erector Spinae, Quadratus Lumborum, Paraspinals, Trapezius, Psoas Major, Multifidus, Iliocastalis Lumborum, Iliocastalis Thoracics, Rotatores, Latissimus Dorsi, Serratus Anterior

The vast majority of the people reading this have no idea what or where these muscles are. But you have each and every one of them, I promise. As you can see, abdominal muscles represent just a small portion of your core. Good news is, you don’t need to know them all. You just need to know that the group of muscles that makes up the core, are, again, all of those that attach and support the spine and pelvis.

Now that we have that settled, let’s ask another question: What exactly does the core musculature do?

In brief, the core muscles help sustain our body upright. They control posture and stabilize the body to allow peripheral movement. A strong, engaged core means a stable body and more ability to generate force with our arms and legs. Whether your an athlete (in any sport or level) or just an average Joe, your core is literally the center of all functional movement.

Notice how the first thing I mentioned in my description of core function was “help sustain our body upright”. This is actually what led me to to write this article, as I see so many people performing sit-ups (incorrectly, if I may add) as the primary exercise for the core. Why would we consider an actual MOVEMENT to train the core, when it’s primary function is to STABILIZE? Shouldn’t we be working on closed kinetic chain, aka HOLDS, instead? I’m talking planks, side planks, glute bridges, dead bugs, bird dog, among so many others. Carries are another excellent, PRIMAL way to train the core. Below, is one of the best exercises to improve core strength.

Farmer Carries train the core by requiring posture to be maintained while adding external weight to one’s natural standing position. Chest should be kept up high, shoulders packed back and down. Talk about a full body exercise, this simple and very often overlooked move works on muscles all the way down to the forearms and fingers (grip). Think about it. If we can stand upright and maintain good posture with external loads, in this case 175 lbs per hand, isn’t that a better sign of actual core strength than laying on the floor and bending at the midsection 100 times? And wouldn’t it make sense that a developed, strong core is actually THICK rather than ripped? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone with a six pack is a chump, but a well defined midsection is only a sign of low body fat percentage, not actual core strength. Sorry to burst your bubble, but if you’re looking for a six pack you need to ditch the sit-ups and get on a nutrition plan (fancy term for DIET).

Although I will not get into it in this article, it’s also worth mentioning that core strength is only half of it. You also need the neuromuscular patterns (motor skills) to actually be able to engage the core. In other words, a strong core is useless if you don’t know how to use it. What’s even worse is that we auto diagnose mobility issues that are actually occurring because of core instability. If the brain senses that there is no stability, it will not allow joints to use full range of motion to protect them.

Nevertheless, if you’re thinking that training the core is a key part of improving athletic performance or just overall fitness, you’re on the right track. Just make sure that you’re not confusing this with aesthetics. As we discussed earlier, there’s a LOT of other muscles involved besides the abdominals. Make sure that you’re performing the right exercises considering that before creating movement, the body needs to be stable. Once you have stability, that’s when the real magic happens.

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