Most people think of your core as just the abdominal muscles you can see (think 6-pack muscles), but we now define the “core” with many more muscles. The core refers to more than just the abs. It encompasses the entire musculature of the torso, including the abdominals, obliques, erectors, glutes, hip flexors, lats, adductors, and more. The core acts on the shoulders, scapulae, spine, pelvis, and hips. At the spine, it can produce, reduce, and resist spinal flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. It is responsible for transmitting forces from the upper body to lower body. Basically every muscle that connects in some way to our pelvis (and there are a lot of them…… some are seen some are deep and can’t be seen and some are connected by the fascial system to other muscles) play a role in having a stable core. Going into all of them and their specific functions is beyond the scope of this article. What I will discuss in this article are four of the main functions that need to be trained to cover all your bases when it comes to core training.
The job of the core is not to just simply create flexion or rotation (think crunches or twisting crunches), its main function is to resist motion. One of the main factors in having a properly functioning core is positioning of what we call the thoraco-pelvic canister or “box” during exercise. In more simple terms, we want the rib cage centered over the pelvis, putting the spine in a more neutral position, with the muscles basically locking the ribs to the pelvis. This allows for all of these muscles to properly stabilize and prevent motion of the core while allowing us to transfer force from the ground up through the core and into our arms and legs.
four main parts of core training are as follows:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
One of the newest forms of core training in the last 5 years has been diaphragmatic breathing (or “belly breathing”). While this practice has been used in yoga for many years it has only started to get the attention it deserves within the fitness industry. Entire articles can be written on breathing, but I will simply say that proper breathing technique allows for the correct function of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is important because it has an important role in stabilizing the core. It forms the top of the core ‘box,’ working with the internal and external obliques, quadratus lumborum, pelvic floor, and transverse abdominus. There are numerous positions that can be held where you can train proper breathing. The key is being able to maintain proper breathing technique while stabilizing in these positions. If you get into a position and find yourself holding your breath the position is too advanced for you and you will end up using a high threshold strategy to maintain stability instead of demonstrating true stability by breathing correctly.
- Anti-Extension / Anti-Flexion:
Anti-Extension / Anti-Flexion exercises train the core to resist extension and flexion from the spine in the sagittal (front to back) plain. Again, there are numerous exercises that can fall into this category and the progressions have to be scaled to the client. If you cannot maintain proper alignment during the exercise it’s too challenging and needs to be regressed. After breathing, controlling the sagittal plain is the first step in building a strong. You need to be proficient at stabilizing this pattern before incorporating the other two patterns.
Anti-Lateral Flexion exercises train the core to resist spinal flexion in the frontal (bending side to side) plain. Having the ability to stabilize in the frontal plain correctly on both sides of the body is a vital component of avoiding back pain. As with the above mentioned patterns, there are numerous ways to challenge the lateral stability capability of a person. However, it’s easy to cheat on these exercises and compensate for a lack of stability so you must be diligent on keeping proper position while performing them.
Anti-Rotation exercises resist rotation around the lumbar spine. Having proper rotational stability is needed to eventually demonstrate rotational power which is needed in rotary sports such as baseball, tennis and golf. Since repetitive and excessive rotation can be one of the most damaging motions to the spine (along with flexion) it is important to be able to use the core muscles to resist this motion.
Now many of these exercises incorporate more than one of these steps as they progress in difficulty. That’s why it’s very important to be screened prior to starting a core training program. This will ensure you are starting with the correct level of difficulty for your current abilities. Doing core exercises that force you to compensate due to an inability to stabilize correctly in whatever position you are in will not help you, they will only engrain further dysfunction. When choosing core exercises you must train on the edge of your ability in order to progress, not past it.
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