Some descriptions of the core say that it is your whole torso or trunk – core just sounds cooler than trunk, doesn’t it? More commonly, it refers to the muscles around your middle – your stomach and lower back. If we get more specific, it’s really a set of four muscles groups around your lower torso.
They’re mostly hidden below the muscles we see on the outside. The four groups are the transverse abdominals along the stomach and sides (we’re talking about the deep abdominals,) the multifidus muscles of the lower back, the diaphragm by our lungs, and the muscles of the pelvic floor.
These muscles do a lot – a lot more useful stuff than just the six-pack abs that we can see on the outside. Multifidus support the lower vertebrae, keeping your spine in alignment. The diaphragm lets you inhale air into your lungs (pretty important, no?)
All of the core muscles together make a base for the rest of the body. When it is strong, it keeps the spine in proper alignment at all times, helping our posture, circulation, and the nervous system.
A strong core can also help you with future workouts: the core muscles provide stability, so you can try different moves safely and prevent injuries. Because your torso is stable, you’ll be able to balance and hold proper posture so that you can perform exercises with the proper positions, which minimizes the risk of injury.
Core muscles give your spine and your entire body the support it needs to move. Think about it: if your spine and organs aren’t properly supported, how can you get the most out of your workout?
So how do you strengthen your core? There are many exercises and workouts that can build core muscles.
The best known and simplest (though not necessarily the easiest) is planking, where you hold yourself in a half-raised push-up-like pose for as long as you can. TRX suspension training is great for core strengthening. In a study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, TRX was proven to help build core strength better than many more traditional exercises. Certain yoga poses can also work your core and help you to balance.
So when you’re looking to build muscle, try to remember the ones we can’t see. While you can’t flaunt the fruits of your labor by flexing your pelvic floor, a strong core will help you when you exercise the muscles that can be seen.
Let’s not forget that you’ll have great posture and you’ll be feeling great thanks to improved circulation and nervous system function. It’s worth getting to know your core and working it out.