Core Work: What It Really Is and Why It Is Critical
by Maarten Van Nus & Barb Kelly
What is Core Work?
So, what is core work? What muscles are involved? What are the best exercises to develop our core? And, just how important is it to include in an exercise routine?
Core work strengthens the central part of our body, which controls movement, balance, stability, and posture. Essentially, our core allows us to stand and move.
The muscles that make up a strong core are often misunderstood. Many people have been taught that our abdominal muscles — the ones we can see under our skin — are the core. Thus, many believe a core workout only needs to exercise our abdominal and oblique (side) muscles.
However, even though our abdominals and obliques are part of the core and should be included in a core routine, the muscles that do all the real work of the core are deep inside, amongst our organs.
The Core Muscles
The primary working muscles of the core are the Multifidus muscles. They are located behind and along either side of the spine. Though very thin, these muscles are critical because they stabilize and protect the spine. Along with distributing body weight evenly to take pressure off the spinal discs, the Multifidus muscles work during twists, turns, bending, and stretching.
In essence, they allow us to move through our day-to-day activities: bending over to tie our shoes, rapidly changing direction to avoid someone on a busy sidewalk, bending sideways to pick up the paper we dropped, twisting to move files from one desk to another, lifting children into car seats, and so on. Any non-linear movements we perform in our day requires strong Multifidus muscles.
The second set of muscle working in your deep core is your Transverse Abdominis. These are located in front of to your spine, and layered deep behind your external oblique muscles. Like the Multifidus, this group of deep layer muscles act as a stabilizer to the spine and pelvis and allow us to move in the many directions that we do.
With the primary Multifidus working the back of the spine and, the secondary Transverse Abdominis working the front of our spine, we are able to stand erect and stable and move in almost any direction we want to whether we move our feet or not.
Even though traditional exercises like squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, and others help strengthen the core, it is important to do planks to isolate the deep muscles to build a truly strong core. Not just a plain, immobile plank, however. The best exercises for developing a strong core are plank movements.
A plain plank only is helpful if we live our life on a set of railway tracks and never have to twist or turn, but that isn’t realistic. Moving planks force our deep core muscles to work alone to move our body in all different directions. Plank movements strengthen the deep core for everyday activities as well as sports. Watch how to do a plank properly.
So, be sure to do plank work every day, if you can. And, when you’re in your plank next time, add a variety of movements to you plain plank: side planks, walking planks, circle planks, superman planks, planks on one leg, etc. Anything that knocks us off our center of gravity assists in building a full, strong, functional core. Check out an advanced plank.
The Critical Core
The importance of a strong core cannot be overstated. A strong core is critical for not only sports and being active but more importantly for moving through each day without noticing weakness, inability, strains, and aches. A strong core will allow you to enjoy your daily activities — moving groceries in and out of the car, carrying things, bending over, kneeling down, lifting and/or carrying things, playing with your dog or your children, running for a bus, sitting and moving at your desk — because every movement you make will be easier with a strong core.
Whether you’re an elite athlete looking to find an edge to up your game, a gym rat looking to clean up your lifts with confidence and stability, a weekend warrior looking to go all out with less chance of injury, or just someone who would love to function day-to-day without the annoyance of aches and pains in the lower back, your core is critical.
Core work is particularly important if you suffer from lower back pains and have a propensity for your pelvis to shift out of alignment. Building a strong, stable core should be high on your workout to-do list.
In conclusion, if you neglect your core, you’ll pay for it at some point. So, next time you’re training, take the time for core work and your body will love you for it.