We hear the word a lot today – “Activate your core!”; “Core strengthening routine”; “Core blaster”. But do you really know what the core is or where it is? If you said “Abs” and pointed towards your tummy, you have it wrong!
To a lot of us “the core” is synonymous with the abdominal muscles or abs. But is that all the core is? Yes and no. Let me explain.
The core signifies the muscles of our body that form the basis of all movement i.e. the core of all movement. So, yes, the abs are a part of the core but, no, the core is not just about abs.
Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.
That is, muscles in the abdominal region, low back area, along the spine and, to a lesser degree, around the hips and shoulder. See the image below to understand better.
(Image – bephaactive.net)
We all know that all these muscles are used for different functions. But all these muscles come together for one common function – to stabilise. That is, these are the muscles that keep us erect and stable. If the muscles of your core didn’t work at all, you’d literally collapse and fall on the floor.
So, when you’re asked to activate your core on a move like the plank or the squat, the point is to activate ALL of these muscles, and not just your abs. Why? Because all these muscles come together to keep your body mobile, strong and safe. And why is that important? Because your body is one unit and everything needs to work for something to work.
Rarely do we do any activity that requires only one set of muscles and very rarely do we do anything that doesn’t utilise our core. And that’s exactly why it’s called “the core” – you need them for pretty much everything you do. Let’s say you’re doing a bicep curl. Obviously you are using the muscles of your upper arm (biceps) to curl the weight up. But what’s happening in the core region? Well, a lot actually – all the muscles of the core are actually working hard. Doing what? Keeping you standing and upright. As mentioned above, if the muscles of your core didn’t work at all, you’d literally collapse and fall on the floor.
Now let’s look at a move that is meant to train the core – the plank.
(I have no idea where this image is from or what it says, but it shows you what muscles are worked when you do a simple elbow plank)
What’s happening here? As you can see, there is no movement happening. If that’s true, why is it hard to hold that position for more than a couple of minutes? Because the muscles of your core are working really hard to keep you from falling on the floor. If you can activate all these muscles well, you can hold a plank for longer than someone who can only activate a few of these muscles. And by consistently working these muscles, you end up with a strong core that helps you in pretty much every human movement in life.
- The core is not just the abs but comprises of the following muscles.
- Strengthening the core means strengthening all these muscles and that’s done by using compound moves that demand stability.
So, the next time you hear the word core, don’t think just abs. Think about your body from the knee till your shoulder. And don’t just think about them, work on actively using them during every second of the rep. This is hard, very hard. But if you can do this diligently you’ll end up with a super strong core, no back issues and, with good nutrition, a smoking hot body too.