The benefits of having a strong core extend beyond mere aesthetics. Sure, a trim tummy looks good, but if vanity was the only reason people trained, their motivation would wear thin after awhile. This is why people who stay fit for life train for reasons that have less to do with scoring a six pack, and more to do with feeling great, being strong and improving overall well-being -- and training your core is one of the best ways to do all of this.
What is the core?
When most of us think about core, we're thinking about abs. Namely, the rectus abdominis: the muscles that run vertically down from your rib cage to your pelvis. These are your "six pack" muscles. While certainly a prominent part of your core muscles, they are by no means the only or most important.
Other core muscles include:
External oblique: These muscles run down each side and front of your abdomen. Your external obliques help to rotate and support your spine and pull your chest downward.
Transverse abdominis: These deep muscles can be found under your obliques. They wrap around your spine to stabilize and protect. The transverse abdominus muscles also act like a girdle for your waistline, so the stronger they are, the trimmer your waist -- and by now we all know that a healthy waistline is directly proportional to good overall health. People who carry extra weight in the middle are at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Internal oblique: Found under your external obliques, the muscle fibres in your internal oblique run in the opposite direction of your external ones. These muscles help provide stabilization and support for critical joints and ligaments in your torso.
Erector spinae: Located in your lower back, this muscle group helps hold up the spine as well as your glutes. Weak erector spinae muscles means loads of lower back pain and spinal imbalances.
Hip flexors: Small but mighty, this group of muscles is located in your lower abdomen and upper thighs. They contribute to spine stabilization, and are the muscles that lift your legs. Neglected hip flexors can result in lower back pain, lower body injuries and knee pain.
Glutes. Your grouping of glutes (i.e. your butt) includes the largest muscle in your body: the gluteus maximus. With so much power, it makes sense that they are insanely important to core strength as well as overall health. Our glutes stabilize and balance our pelvis, extend our hips and keep our legs and torso aligned. Weak glutes lead to unbalanced core strength, which can result in hamstring and lower back pain and/or injury.
Hamstrings. Running down the back of your thighs, your hamstrings work to pull up and move your hips backward. Weak hamstrings are one the leading causes of lower back pain and knee injuries.
All of these muscle groups compromise your core. They work together to protect, align and stabilize your entire torso. And they affect the health, strength and performance of the rest of your body. With so much riding on your core, subpar and unbalanced core strength is subpar overall strength.
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Core Training Tips
You need to show your core a whole lot of love if you want to look your best, and perform at peak.
Tip #1: Train all core muscle groups equally: just don’t focus on your front abs. Get your back, butt and hamstrings too.
Tip #2: Incorporate a range of movement. Twist and turn. Sit up, squat down. Lift up and push down. Don’t just do sit ups or crunches. Do mountain climbers, Russian twists, Romanian deadlifts, kickbacks, push ups, twisting planks. Move your midsection in as many ways as possible.
Tip #3: Use resistance to amp up your training. This shouldn’t be a big deal, since you use your core everyday to lift some sort of weight, be it a bag of groceries or a child. Check out our Core Bundle to snag the best equipment for core training.
Tip #4: Hold still for static exercise. We’re talking front planks, side planks, back planks and bridging. These core exercises develop your stationary strength, which balances and complements your dynamic moves to create a powerful midsection.
Sure, a strong, taut tummy looks amazing, but remember that developing your core strength is also one of the most functional training decisions you can make. After all, your core is used constantly, stabilizing, powering and controlling your movement. Amp up your performance and enhance your body: train your core!
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