We’ve all heard of it, we all want to have a ‘strong core’, and any of us who go to the gym probably think we are doing lots of core training! But what are we really doing, and what are we really trying to achieve? Do we really know what the core is and do we really know how or why we are developing it! Maybe you’re just after that flat stomach, but if we can think of our core in relative terms we really will realise its importance and therefore realise its potential, and in the process, get that flat stomach we’ve been after.
The true definition of core is ‘Where all movement begins and ends’ When we begin to think of our core in terms of it being the strength behind our outer limbs we will maximise our functional strength, recruit deep and superficial core muscles and as a bi – product of our body’s strength and function as a Kinetic chain all interacting and interdependent in the most effective way, we’ll get that flat stomach we’ve been after!
The fitness industry uses the word core exercise as a generic term, but two types of muscles comprise the abdominal and lumbo pelvic region. Global muscles, also called mobilizers or movement muscles, sit at the most superficial layer of the abdominal region. Local muscles, also called stabilizers, sit deeper in the abdominal wall. True core exercise primarily engages the stabilizers.
Core Anatomy...a bit of the boring stuff first!
The local and global muscles can also be referred to as the inner and outer unit. The deep, intrinsic muscles such as transversus abdominis, the pelvic floor and the multifidus make up the inner unit, whereas the rectus abdominis and external obliques make up the outer unit. Most fitness enthusiasts are familiar with the mobilizing muscle groups but don’t actually think about primarily recruiting the ‘core’ to do the big movement exercises necessary for our daily lives such as squats and deadlifts. The rectus abdominus flexes the spine when performing crunches, and the obliques rotate the spine during oblique curls.
Core Muscle Function
During movement, the inner unit or core musculature provides a stable platform for the outer unit muscles. If this ‘Core stability’ in real terms isn’t there, and the inner unit isn’t effectively engaged, problems with joint stability occur and eventually lead to injury in the client. Without that inner unit recruitment the strength, balance and stability needed for optimum function in day to day life will never be there. Furthermore those ‘mirror’ stomach muscles will never look the way you want them to!
Core Stability Examples
Core stability exercises usually keep the spine extended and use only a minimal amount of joint movement. They help develop neuromuscular efficiency in the body so that muscles can work together synergistically and optimum, injury free function of those outer movement muscles can be achieved. Begin on all fours; breathe in and draw your abdominal muscle toward your spine. Hold for 10 seconds; then relax and repeat. Next, have a partner place a dowel rod vertically along your spine. As you exhale, lift one palm a fraction of an inch from the floor, and lift the opposite knee to the same height. If your multifidus is engaged, your spine remains straight, and the dowel rod stays on your back. Repeat with the other hand. Other examples of Core Stability exercises include the bridge and the plank.
Performing hundreds of crunches or oblique curls enhances outer core muscle endurance, but does not improve strength or function. To strengthen your global core muscles, you need to add challenge to the exercises. Examples include holding a weight while you perform the exercise, increasing the exercise range of motion and performing the exercise with both legs lifted from the floor. Using balance equipment such as stability balls imposes a balance challenge, which may require deeper core activity to maintain stability. Core function and therefore global strength will improve when we think of the core as part of larger compound movement exercises such as squats in different planes of movement.
Those deeper core muscles will only be recruited if the foundations of core and joint stability have been laid down from the beginning. It is important as responsible Health and Fitness Professionals that we always remember this and therefore lay down the foundations of efficient movement patterns in our training journey with our clients.
If this has given you an appetite for learning more about Fitness Exercise and Health, speak to one of our Trainers about the range of courses we run TODAY!