When most people think about the "core", they think about sit ups and six-pack abs. However, the core is much larger than just your abdominal muscles and there are hundreds of more effective ways to strengthen it than sit ups.
What is "The Core"?
Contrary to popular belief, the core is not just your abdominal muscles and obliques. In anatomy, it is considered the body without the arms and legs. The list below adds some specificity to that.
Major core muscles:
Pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae , and the diaphragm.
Minor core muscles:
Latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.
The Biggest Misconception:
Core training consists of any movement that improves the strength of the above mentioned muscles. The biggest mistake that people make during core training is to train it as a prime mover in isolation. Your core most often acts as a stabilizer and force transfer center, or secondary mover. Yet consistently people focus on training their core as a prime mover and in isolation. This would be doing crunches or back extensions versus functional movements like deadlifts, overhead squats, and pushups.
Core Training For Athletes:
A strong mid-section allows you to change direction and generate force more quickly. It also allows you to absorb impacts to the body more efficiently, lowering your risk of injury. Every functional movement in sports involves the use of your core muscles to stabilize, transfer force, or generate power. Here are some examples:
1. Football Linemen: The core stabilizes the hips, allowing the legs to push off the ground generating power up through the core to create the pushing force of the upper body.
2. A Soccer Player Kicking the Ball: The obliques, psoas major, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae allow the leg to swing back, rotate forward with speed, and generate the power necessary to kick the ball.
The Best Ways for Athletes to Train Their Core:
Including functional movements into your strength training routine is the most effective way to strengthen the muscles of the core. What are functional movements? Functional movements are movements based on real-life biomechanic situations. They involve multi-planar, multi-joint movements that mimic motions that one would likely encounter while playing their sport.
Functional Exercises: Single- Leg Squats, Medicine Ball Throws, Band Bursts.
Non-functional Exercises: Any exercise that removes your core as a stabilizer. Lying on your back during an upper body push (Bench Press) or sitting down during a lower body push (Seated Leg Press).
Core Training Is Important For Non-Athletes As Well:
About 25% of the general population suffer from back pain in any given year. Instead of taking pills or getting surgery to relieve the pain, many researchers are suggesting core strengthening exercises to find relief.
How is it that a stronger core may be all I need?
The muscles in your back and core can become tight from sitting, standing, or even walking. When they become tight, one side of the muscles may pull on the spine more than the other, causing lower back pain. When you strengthen the muscles of your core, you prevent the pulling and twisting motions that the spine may otherwise experience.
The best exercises for core strengthening in people who experience back pain include movements that do not involve compression or twisting of the spine. For example, planks.