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A strong core is a critical piece to many puzzles in the body. If you have an iron core that has been trained correctly, you’ll see significant improvements in posture, general movement, overall strength, pain management, running, injury prevention & more.
So, what does the core consist of? Is it enough to do 100 situps per night? What should you be feeling for? What are the best core exercises? How many times per week should you train the core?
We’ll be covering all of this and more in this article.
If you’re interested in all or even some of these points, the following is a must-read that we believe you’ll get a lot of benefit from. If you would like additional help on this topic or have any questions, we’re more than happy to help.
WHAT IS THE CORE?
If you’re thinking less of the science stuff and more practical, we feel you! You can skip this section and get straight to the good stuff, but it’s good to know what the core is and what it does to understand what is happening and why. Either way, we’ll keep this part short and sweet.
The core consists of major and minor components. Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae the diaphragm. The lumbar muscles, quadratus Lumborum (deep portion), deep rotators, cervical muscles, rectus capitus anterior and lateralis.
Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.
The minor ones will be important to remember later when we go into muscle integration.
what are the functions of the core?
Rather than break down each individual part of the core. Instead, we’ll break it down into 2 critical functions the core engages in.
Get good at these 2 things, and you’re covered for the most part. As a side note, later in life or during / post-pregnancy, the pelvic floor will also be necessary. For this, the main exercise recommended is to hold as if you need to go to the toilet and you’re holding it in. Do that for as long as possible, which assists in pelvic floor activation.
1. STATIC CORE FUNCTION - Static core functionality is the ability of the core to align the skeleton with resisting a force that does not change.An example of a static core function would be held still to fire a rifle. If the core engages in any dynamic movement, the shooter would be off-target as a result.
We can call this core stability, and exercises like a plank would work well when done correctly. We will provide a video of a good plank later in this article.
2. DYNAMIC CORE FUNCTION – Things get much more complicated when we go dynamic. We need to consider our skeletal structure (as a lever) in addition to the force of external resistance. As a result, a much more complicated connection of muscles is involved.
An example of this is walking on a slope. The body must resist gravity while moving in a direction and balancing itself on uneven ground.
We need core stability to support the structure during movement as well.
Core activation is critical when it comes to effective core training. But all too often, people will hold, for example, a plank, and instead of focusing on really getting the core firing, they’ll be thinking about what’s for dinner or an email they need to send after the training session.
Your focus needs to be on your training! Regardless of what muscle you’re trying to work, the core is no different.
To do this effectively, we need what is called intra-abdominal pressure. The ability to get your navel in toward your spine. Really drawing the stomach helps the deeper muscles like the TVA function correctly.
If you can’t do this, you may need to address your diet and see if gut inflammation prevents you from achieving this. We will cover this in detail in another post.
So, the crucial take-homes here.
lower back activation
Although the erector spinae is indeed part of your core, as a general rule, people are overly engaged here and less engaged in the other core muscles.
So, it’s best to focus on the front part of your core and not to worry too much about isolating the lower back. There are circumstances where the lower back has atrophied, and you may need to assist that. But as a vast majority focusing on the front is where it’s at.
If your lower back is engaging when you want the front to work, there are a couple of reasons this could occur.
Your core is too weak to complete that particular exercise effectively. If this is the case, consider regressing the exercise so that the core switches on correctly. An example of this would be a plank going to a knee plank.
1. Your muscles around the back or hip area need a release.Luckily this is easy to check. Get a hard lacrosse ball or trigger ball and try releasing the lower back or hip area. Look up piriformis release with trigger ball as well as TFL. You can do these on the floor, and the lower back can be done against a wall.
2. You’re not focused on the right muscles, and you’ve gone into autopilot.Once again, in the words of The Rock… FOCUS! Head in the game and your chances of using the right muscles increase considerably.
3. Pelvic position If your pelvis is tilted or shifted incorrectly, you can be in what’s called lordosis. Where the lower back is swayed too excessively. This causes a heap of pressure on the lower back, especially in certain challenging positions like a plank. We have a post on posture that will help with this issue.
benefits of a strong core
how to train the core effectively
To train the core correctly, you need to have a few things to ensure you are targeting the right muscles without creating an imbalance or overdependence on a particular part of the core.
WHICH PARTS TO FOCUS ON
For a great overall core program, you need to have 4 main parts involved. These are the obliques, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis (TVA) & glute max (butt). When these areas are firing well and working together, your core becomes a beast!
We also want exercises that integrate muscles and encourage them to work together. When we train the other parts, the core should be coming along for the ride.
HOW TO ENSURE CORE TRAINING IS BALANCED & EFFECTIVE
Put simply, you need to ensure you’re focusing evenly on the above areas and not neglecting specific muscles that are critical for a strong core.
This is why the 100 situps a night plan isn’t the best idea, as this trains the superficial rectus abdominis and can lead to weaker deeper muscles like the TVA.
You want to get the TVA going as a priority. Good TVA exercises are a plank as well as a standing transverse hold. It’s essential to draw in your navel toward your spine when doing core training and during the day to day activities. TVA is critical and often neglected, so keep this high on your priority list.
Next up, you want to think of an exercise that is rectus abdominis based, like a situp, for example. This superficial muscle is the one that people see when you’re rocking a great set of abs. TVA for functionality, rectus abdominis for the looks. But don’t overdo the looks because a weak TVA is something you don’t want.
Next, we have the obliques, and as some of you may have guessed, working these involves rotation. But there are a few key things to remember when involving rotation in your training.
1. Keep your hips still – When rotating, focus on your upper body rotating with your hips dead still. This increases oblique activation, protects your lower back, and makes the exercise much safer, more effective, and better for overall movement and well-being.
2. Keep your navel drawn in toward your spine – This will help keep the front on more and allow your body to rely less on the lower back. If you feel it in the lower back, you are doing it wrong!
3. Focus! – Focus on activation on the sides of your abs, and feel it work across from one side of your core to the other as you move across. Never train on autopilot!
Now that we have an idea of what to do, how do we put it together? How many sets/reps should we do? How long should you be able to hold a plank? When should you stop an exercise?
A combination of exercises that involve movement, rotation and static holding should be included in a well-rounded core workout. This can be done in one session dedicated to the core or can be done in between sets of other training days as a form of active recovery to the muscle you’re working on. Just depends on what your priorities are and how much time you have to commit to exercise.
As for sets and reps, we usually do 3 sets per exercise, although this is by no means necessary. Reps, we don’t worry about too much; what’s more important is reaching a point of muscle fatigue, which will allow the muscle to get stronger.
There’s no point thinking, I should just do 10 reps, and I’m good. What if you were capable of 20? Or perhaps your lower back activated by the 7th rep.
To avoid this issue, focus on activation as a priority and reach a point of fatigue. That way, the correct muscles are working, and they get enough of a workout in to be forced to get stronger.
exercises for a strong core
Here are some exercises you can do for a strong core. Of course, this is just the beginning, and there are many others, but this will do really well to get you started.
There’s no denying that a strong core is a critical element for overall health, posture, quality movement, day to day activities, strength & much more.
We know that balance across the different core muscles is essential. So rather than doing 100 situps a day and calling it, we need a combination of situp like movements, rotational movements and static exercises to really get the core firing correctly.
We learned the importance of activation and focus. Ensuring the correct muscles are working and reaching a point of fatigue without the wrong muscles kicking in for backup. This especially applies to the lower back.
Finally, we went over some exercises to get you started on developing a powerful core.
If you’re unsure of anything or want us to elaborate on a particular part of this article, please feel free to reach out in the comments or on our contact page.
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Core anatomy & function
The reason why the lower back engages going over delays in core activation. Covers anatomy and functionality also
Explaining what lordosis is and causes, PLEASE IGNORE THE HOW TO PREVENT LORDOSIS SECTION!
Real-world benefits of strengthening your core