The Core

Photo courtesy of Jupiter Images

What is The Core?

I believe the term “core” is being thrown around so much by different people without really understanding its true meaning. I’ve even heard trainers define them as your abs. They often go…

“Alright. So we’re done lifting weights. It’s time to train your core. Give me 12 reps of sit-ups.”

So right there. Abdominal training is prescribed.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Sit-ups do hit your core. But what is your core?

Is it your abs?

Is it your hip flexors?

Is it your core muscles? Meaning your chest, back and legs?

Is it your obliques?

Well, the core remains a somewhat nebulous concept; but most researchers consider it the corset of muscles and connective tissue that encircles and holds the spine in place.

Corset.

Now who doesn’t want to see a girl in a corset?

Sorry I got lost there.

Anyhow, world renowned back expert and a highly regarded professor of spine and biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Dr. Stuart McGill, defines the core as the following:

        1. The Rectus Abdominis
        2. The Transversus Abdominis
        3. The External and Internal Obliques
So, that my friends, is your core.

But how do you know whether you’re activating your core during exercise?

Just brace yourself for a punch.

Yep. You heard it right. Imagine that you;re showing off to your girlfriend and you tell her nephew to punch you in the stomach.

That’s activating your core right there.

Now do that when you’re doing bench presses, deadlifts, squats… heck, even bicep curls.

It’s actually called abdominal bracing, which is being advocated by Dr. McGill.

Sucking in your gut whenever you see a gorgeous girl pass by is not a proper way to activate your core. That’s called abdominal hollowing. I mean, it does ensure that your stomach is hiding but it doesn’t ensure that your core is stable. Not a very good idea when you’re lifting heavy loads.

So I hope that clears any confusion about the core.

Balanced training is very important when training your core.

A common mistake of people is that they only concentrate on one area of training and neglect the other parts. It’s bad enough that they don’t know their bodies well enough to engage the right muscles, even worse if they do less.

A core exercise program should emphasize all of the major muscles (Tranversus Abdominis, Rectus Abdominis and Obliques) that girdle the spine, including but not concentrating on the abs. Side planks and the bird dog exercise the important muscles embedded along the back and sides of the core. Crunches are good too. Sit-ups are a no no. According to Dr. McGill, sit ups place devastating loads on the disk of your back. Again, no hollowing of the stomach.

These three when done regularly can provide a well-rounded core stability.

So next time, if your trainer or your friend asks you to do a sit-up, tell them to hollow their stomach first to demonstrate the proper way of doing it.

If they correct you and tell you that hollowing is not the proper way to do it, do your workout and give them a pat on the back.

If they get it wrong..

Punch them in the stomach.

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