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The core muscles - what, why and how?

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There seems to be a lot of talk about the core ... and perhaps even more pictures of washboard abs and tips on how to achieve them. But why are the core muscles so important and how should we be training them?


What are the core muscles?

They are basically a network designed to support the spine and stabilize the body when it moves. The core muscles aren’t just the abs! In the abdominal region, you would find the:
• Rectus abdominis (this is what creates the look of a 6 pack)
• External obliques (located down the side of the torso and enable twisting actions)
• Internal obliques (also allow twisting but provide stability for the spine too)
• Transversus abdominis (one of the deepest of the core muscles that helps to stabilise the spine when you move the arms or legs)
• Quadratus lumborum (often referred to as a back muscle, this stabilises the spine and pelvis and is the deepest core muscle)
And they are just the abdominal core muscles! There are many other muscles in the back and the gluteal area that contribute to the role of this complex network, which, more often than not, are missed out when we talk about training the core.


How should I be training my core?

The first place to start when training the core is creating stability; this is the ability to control forces using the muscles and is key for injury prevention. Without stability, strength is no use. It enables us to move safely through the different planes of motion and this applies to how we train the core.

The best place to start when training for stability is moving through the sagittal plane; this involves forwards and backwards movement. A great exercise to begin with is superman (see image below). See if you can keep still through your torso as you move one arm and the opposite leg away from your body. If this feels pretty easy, have a go at dead bug, focus on drawing down through the lower abdominals to ensure the back cannot arch and become strained.


(Above, superman. Below, deadbug)


Once you can maintain stability in this plane, try adding exercises that move through the frontal plane (side to side). A side plank is good test for frontal movement, try resting on one foot and one elbow with it positioned under your shoulder and lift the hips up, hold this position or try adding dips to intensify the exercise.

side plank

Above, side plank

The next plane to work in is the transverse plane (this involves rotation); a Russian twist is a great body weight exercise that challenges the muscles to work through the transverse plane.

russian twist

Above, Russian Twist.

As you can see from the exercises above, stability is all about resisting forces that move the body in different ways. So, the next part for us to look at is core strength; this is the ability to CREATE force, rather than resist it. If you are looking to create more strength through the core, doing exercises such as deadlifts or weighted leg raises will help develop this. The core muscles have to generate a force to lift that barbell and will become stronger as a result.

hanging leg raise

Above, a deadlift, below, a hanging leg raise


So, although a six pack may look appealing, creating a training plan that works on stability and strength is much more important than the aesthetics that surround ‘core training’ and will help you stay strong, mobile and injury free. Hopefully that has helped give you some ideas on how to structure your core work and cleared up some myths on training those elusive abs!