I am a Board-Certified Physical Therapist and National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.
What Are the Core Muscles?
If you want to build something, no matter what it is you're trying to build, the best way to start is by laying a good, strong, and solid foundation. The core muscles are the foundation of the human body. All of the muscles in your body at some point rely on your abs, your hips, and lower back. It's the base of your body and the center of attraction. Any and every activity you perform will incorporate your core muscles, so it's imperative to keep them strong and healthy. The core muscles consist of:
- Rectus Abdominis ( the six-pack part of your abs that everyone is trying so hard to get)
- Obliques (external and internal, muscles on the side, front and under your abdomen)
- Transverse Abdominis ( the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your spine giving it stability and protection
- Erector Spinae ( three muscles that run along your lower back and neck).
The core muscles allow you to stand upright and move on both feet, supporting your spine, transferring energy, and giving your body improved balance and stability by shifting body weight and controlling movements. Strengthening these muscles will also be beneficial in everyday activities and improve performance in sports or any other physical activity.
Training Your Core
When you're training the core muscles, one thing that you must understand is that your abdominal muscles can not be separated. There are certain exercises that can be performed to put additional stress on a particular region/part of the abdomen, but all of the muscles work together in each and every exercise you do. Any exercise that incorporates your abdominals or back muscles is considered to be a core exercise. Another advantage of working on your core is you really do not need weights to work on these muscles. When you're training, most of your body parts require some kind of apparatus, attachment, or device to achieve the desired level of intensity/goal. Strengthening your core muscles doesn't even require a membership to your neighborhood gym or fitness center to work on them. Most of the exercises can be performed in the privacy of your own home with little or no equipment at all.
Planks are one of the best exercises you can do for building core and upper body strength and conditioning. The plank is an isometric static hold that is more for integration of hold and tension, strengthening connections between muscles for better overall functional strength rather than for isolation. Isolation exercises strengthen a particular area but may result in weaker muscle connections, causing poor functional strength. Isometric exercises like the plank occupy the proprioceptors in the body in holds that develop functional strength. Unlike the crunch and sit-ups, which only target the abdominals, the plank challenges most of the 29 inner core and stabilizing muscles. Starting at the top of a push-up position, bend the elbows and lower the body down until your weight can be shifted from your hands to the forearms. Your body should be in a straight line, increase the tension in your abs by tightening them up, as if someone was about to punch you in the stomach and hold the pose. The length of the hold will be dependent on your fitness level. The stronger your core, the longer you will be able to hold the position. There are several other variations of the exercise such as the side plank, Superman plank, and plank with arm lift. As you start to become more fit and advanced, I'm sure you will try them all.
Arm Sweep Exercise
This is a movement that specifically targets the obliques muscles. Position yourself by sitting on the floor, basically like an "L" with your legs stretched out directly in front of you (legs slightly bent). You will then begin twisting your body, reaching over with your left arm until you are touching the floor with your left hand next to your right foot. Repeat the same exact movement with your right hand. The twisting/sweeping motion stretches and strengthens the obliques while providing you with a better range of motion.
I'm sure everyone is aware of the crunch by now. Crunches can be performed in several different variations like on the floor or with an exercise ball. When being done on the floor, lie down flat on your back bending your legs so that your hips and knees are at an approximate 90% angle. Crossing your arms on your chest and tightening your abdominals, raise your head and shoulders off the floor. Many people like to lock their hands behind their neck, but research has linked this to neck strain. Crunches will isolate the abdominals by using the spine as a hinge of support. There are several different variations of the crunch. Isolation movements like the crunch will develop aesthetic appeal (in layman's terms, this makes you look good with your clothes off) but doesn't produce functional strength in the body.
Superman (Lower Back Stretch)
The Superman exercise will require you to be lying flat on the floor with your arms and legs stretched out straight as if you were flying through the air like the name suggests, Superman. Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your right arm up off the floor for a specified period of time. Do the same with the other arm and/or each leg. There are several different variations of this exercise. You can do both arms at once, opposite arm and leg, or even both arms and both legs at the same time. This exercise will strengthen your core and lower back.
Recovery of the Core
Just like your chest, arms, or any other muscle group that you work out, your core muscles will need recovery time just as well. Although the abdominal muscles are very tough and can be worked on frequently, make sure that you are getting the nutritional requirements for your body and an adequate amount of rest. There are a plethora of other exercises that can be performed that will assist in strengthening the core muscles. The squat, back bridge, hip lift, Russian twist, and even the common push-up exercise is great for the core and upper body strength. If you are not in good physical shape, then you will need to start off small like doing body weight exercises. Your abdominals are usually a lot stronger than your lower back. Strengthening your core muscles can assist in decreasing any lower back pain. However, don't try to exceed your limitations when starting out. You have to be honest with yourself. If you don't work out all of your stabilizing muscles you can cause an imbalance which may result in serious injury or chronic lower back pain. So make sure you are working out your entire midsection, not just your six-pack that you can't stop looking at.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Kevin W
Glenda A Lovett on December 06, 2017:
I do want to thank you for sharing this very important information for all to benefit from it. I now know why and what my problem is because of your investing. I’ve been having lower back pain and have been to the Doctor they have not a clue but surgery and who wants that not me! So I do give thanks and appreciate for all that you’ve done for me by caring and sharing and posting this healthy issue God bless ✌
LKMore01 on July 06, 2013:
Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Working on core exercises right now. It's been tough because I'm not naturally inclined to work out at all. LOL . The HUBS I've read so far have offered detailed and practical advice.
ANIL KUMAR UPADHYAY from INDIA, UTTAR PRADESH STATE, KANPUR CITY on June 09, 2013:
A very useful and interesting hub. You forced me to consider for strengthening my core muscles. Thanks for awesome information. Best wishes
Kevin W (author) from Texas on June 08, 2013:
@Peggy W & Cloverleafarm, most people do not comprehend how imperative to the rest of your body, for your core to be strong. Glad you guys/husband are doing much better.
Thank you Careermommy
Tirralan Watkins from Los Angeles, CA on June 08, 2013:
This is an awesome hub about strengthening our core muscles. It is detailed and to the point. Excellent info!
Healing Herbalist from The Hamlet of Effingham on June 08, 2013:
Peggy W, I too had issues with L4, L5, and S1. I did a lot of walking and core training, and I haven't had an issue again.
Great hub. A reminder to all that our core is very important to the rest of our body.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 08, 2013:
My husband is undergoing physical therapy right now for his lower back. He has L4 , L5 disc problems. Am going to send this to him & when he is a bit stronger he should probably do these exercises. He is even having problems walking right now and is in pain. They sound good for everyone to do! Thanks! Up and useful votes and sharing.
Irfan on May 30, 2013:
Thanks buddy for all stuff. It will help me out specially the stuff you wrote about crunches.
Willette from Michigan on February 04, 2013:
Thanks for this hub. I keep putting off exercise and this seems like a good way to ease into it. Thumbs up and useful.