The great and all powerful six pack. Yes, that’s right. You’ve probably been working them out a lot. But there’s more to it. They have a big role to play in your body, which you are probably not aware of.
What are they?
Lets start with the basics. What are core muscles? This term refers to the muscles that control your spine, abdomen, waist and lower back. They provide spinal stability, contributes to good posture, and are very appealing. Core muscles are: rectus abdominis, obliques, erector spinae, transverse abdominis and quadratus lumborum.
The rectus abdominis a.k.a. abs is the one you probably know the most about. It goes from the bottom of the sternum to the front of the pelvis. The rectus is involved in flexing the spine forward and to the side and forceful exhalation. What gives abs their 6 pack look is fibrous tissue formation called the linea alba. Obliques come in different shapes and sizes: internal, transverse and external. They are located on the side in diagonal layers. The main role of obliques is to rotate the spine, flex it laterally, and help with forceful exhalation. The erector spinae is a complex of eight muscles that run up the spine. They keep the spine straight and bend it sideways. A thin, wide muscle that is placed horizontally around the abdomen is called transverse abdominis. It compresses the organs of the abdomen to keep them in place, and to support the spine. The quadratus lumborum runs from your bottom ribs to the top of the pelvis on each side. They can extend the spine or flex it forward or sideways.
Movement of the core
Most of the movements of the trunk, abdomen and spine are controlled by the core muscles.
- Trunk flexion is performed by curling up. The rectus abdominis is in charge here.
- Trunk extension is a movement of bending backwards, which is done by erector spinae.
- Trunk rotation happens when you twist to the left and right. It is done by internal and external obliques.
- Lateral trunk flexion is bending to the side. Obliques, rectus abdominis and erector spinae are muscles used for this movement.
- Compression of the abdomen is performed by drawing your belly button inwards. The main muscle for this movement is the transverse abdominis.
The importance of core muscles
Now we get to the important part – the purpose of these muscles. They are included in almost any movement you do. No matter if you are working out, swimming, or mopping the floor, it activates core muscles more or less. Even motion of the arms and legs can move to your core. Weak and inflexible core muscles can decrease the function of any part of your body. On the other side, a strong core can benefit the balance and stability, and decrease the chances of injury.
Everyday tasks like standing, siting or turning around rely on the core. We don’t actually notice this until there is an injury, which causes a whole lot of pain.
Jobs that involve lifting ,standing, twisting, and even sitting need strong core muscles.
Strong core can be a huge plus for your back. It can prevent lower back pain, and stretching your core can ease it.
Core muscles are very important for any sport you can think of: tennis, football, volleyball, rowing, biking, golf etc. So you should work on your core if you want to get better at it.
As core stabilizes the body and allows movement in any direction it has a huge effect on the balance.
Weak core can lead to slouching. While good core lowers the pressure on the spine, and allows you to breathe deeply. To simplify good core = good posture.
How to test your core strength
The best way to evaluate static core strength is to perform plank and side plank.
For the plank you want to get into push-up position. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees and put all your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be beneath the shoulders to hold your body properly. To pass you must hold the position for 90 seconds without moving your body. It is important to maintain a firm posture with a flat back.
For a side plank you want to turn on one side. Once again rest your weight on your forearms, while the rest of your body is straight and stable. Hold for 60 seconds without losing stability and you pass.
To test the dynamic core strength use knees to chest and toes to bar exercises.
For knees to chest hang from a pull-up bar and align the shoulders properly. Lift your knees to the chest slowly, and lower back to starting position, once again slowly, so there is no swing. Do five repetitions. You pass only of you do complete movement without any swing and remain pain free.
The same applies for toes to bar, but except moving knees to chest, you move your toes to the bar.
How to strengthen your core
Spiderman plank crunch
Among the best exercises for your core are the ones you use to test it. If it becomes too easy for you, the plank can be “upgraded” to the Spiderman plank crunch.
To do this exercise begin in the traditional plank pose, bend your knee and leg on the right forward can bring it up to your right elbow, and return to the starting position.
Repeat with the left leg. Do 10 reps total.
Hold a cable with both hands in front of you, a bit below shoulder level.
Rotate your upper body to the left, back to the center, than to the right and back.
Do 10 reps.
Lay down and look up at the ceiling and behind the head is where you should place your hands. Raise your legs and bend them at 90 degrees.
Turn your torso to the left so your elbow on the right touches (or almost touches) your knee on the left. Then do the same with your left upper side and right knee.
As building strong core is important, you must try to exercise all these muscles equally. It is not smart to focus on only one muscle like abs. It won’t get you the strength and stability you need, while it leads to injuries in other, not trained muscles.