overhead pressMany people discuss core training, yet they have no idea what they are actually talking about. People tend to believe that core training is simply doing crunches, planks and trunk twist exercises. These exercises can be great for assisting in the development of a strong core, but this is not the true definition of core training. Without the full understanding of how the body works, the importance of a strong core can never be fully understood.

What is the core?

Many people immediately associate the six pack muscles (rectus abdominis) with the core, but the core is actually all of the muscles that attach to and support the spine.

Transverse Abdominis (TVA)-The deepest of the abdominal muscles, this lies under the obliques (muscles of your waist). It acts like a weight belt, wrapping around your spine for protection and stability.

Target Exercises: Planks, Vacuums

External Obliques-These muscles are on the side and front of the abdomen, around your waist.

Target Exercise: Any twisting against resistance

Internal Obliques-These muscles lie under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.

Target Exercise: Twisting against resistance

Rectus Abdominis– The rectus abdominis is a long muscle that extends along the front of the abdomen. This is the “six-pack” part of the abs that becomes visible with reduced body fat.

Target Exercise: Crunch

Erector Spinae -The erector spinae is actually a collection of three muscles along your neck to your lower back.

Target Exercises: Back Extensions


One can even make a case that muscles like your lats, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors can be included as core muscles.  These muscles all play a huge role in the positioning of the hip complex, and because of this they are major players when it comes to the body’s ability to produce force and stabilize.

The Importance of a Strong Core

The core’s job is to stabilize during movement.  It is not the core’s job to look fly and get chicks on the beach.

Think of your core as the body’s base of support, or foundation.  If the core is not strong the foundation is weak.  The extremities can only produce a limited amount of force when supported by a weak foundation.

A good metaphor for this idea is thinking about a cannon on a war ship VS a canoe.  If you were to shoot a cannon off of a war ship, the cannon would fire to it’s full potential and generate a substantial amount of force.  If you shot that same cannon off of a canoe, the force production would be much less and the base of support (the canoe) would probably break or flip over.

Your body works in the same way.  If your core is weak and your extremities produce more force than your base of support can handle, you are going to move inefficiently or even worse get injured.

How to Build a Strong Core

Effectively building a strong core cannot be done by laying on your back.  It cannot be done doing a million crunches.  Ab work helps, but it is a small piece to the puzzle.

The truly effective way to build a strong core is to get up off of your feet.  Preform lifts and movements that have limited support from an outside source.  This means getting off of machines, getting off of benches, and getting on your feet.

Exercises like squats, deadlifts, standing over head presses, multiplanar lunges, pull ups, and bent over rows should all be staples in your exercise programs.  Most people fall into the trap of doing the easy and simple lifts.  They tend to stick to machines and other exercises that are much less taxing on the body.  Granted machines do have their place and can be great in assisting in strength and muscular development, they do not strengthen the muscles of the inner abdominal wall effectively.

If these types of movements are the basis for your workout, your extremities will become so strong that your core cannot properly support their force production.  That is a one way ticket to snap city!

So get up off of your feet whenever possible to avoid this situation.  Do movement variations that tax the body’s ability to stabilize itself.  In the end you will be stronger, have less pain, move better, and decrease your chances of injury.  Can’t beat that!

For more on exercise selection and levels of stability check out this article: Exercise Order: Solving the Puzzle

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