Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Core training

You've probably heard a lot of the importance of having a strong core, no matter what you do, whether it be running, weight lifting, or just regular activities of daily living (ADL).

But what IS the core really?
My goal with this post is to educate you about the anatomy and function of the core, as well as give you some exercises for training your core.
It's a good idea to know, which muscles the core consists of and what their function is, in order to know how to best work them. Most people think the core is a nice 6-pack or strong, toned abs. However, there are many more muscles creating the core. Different experts include different muscles, but in general it's the muscles around the trunk and torso.
On the list below I've included the most notable muscles making up the core:
  • Musculus (m.) rectus abdominis
  • M. obliquus externus and internus
  • M. transversus abdominis
  • M. erector spinae (back extenders)
  • M. latissimus dorsi (the wings of the back)
  • M. multifidus
From Google Images
M. rectus abdominis:
The rectus abdominis are the straight abs, and the ones you normally associate with the "6-pack". The 6-pack-like appearance is because the rectus abdominis is divided by 3 horizontal tendinous intersections. At the same time, the rectus abdominis is divided into a right and left side by a long vertical strip of tendon connections, called Linea Alba. It's primary function is to shorten the distance between the hip and the chest, as with a classical sit-up.

M. obliquus externus and internus:
These muscles are just below each other, the externus being just below the skin. They run from the lower ribs diagonally to the hips on both sides of the rectus abdominis. The muscles help shortening the distance between the hips and the chest, just like the rectus abdominis, but because of their diagonal orientation, they also rotate the spine as well as bending to the sides.

M. transversus abdominis:
The m. transversus abdominis is the deepest muscle of the 4 abdominal muscles, and its primary role is to stabilise the spine. A weakness or malfunction of the m. transversus abdominis is a fairly important factor for back problems.

M. erector spinae:
The m. erector spinae is a group of muscles and tendons located on the back, where it lies in the groove to the side of the spine. It extends the spine, bending the spine such that the head moves backwards, while the chest protrudes forward.

M. latissimus dorsi:
The m. latissimus dorsi is also known as the wings of the back, and lats for short. It acts as a synergist to extending and lateral flexion of the lumbar spine.

M. multifidus:
The m. multifidus is one of the smallest, yet most powerful muscle that aids the spine regarding support.  It is a series of muscles, just like the m. erector spinae, that are attached to the spine, though they attach differently from the m. erector spinae.
The muscle helps stabilising the spine, as well as contribute to extending the spine, turning and lateral flexion of the spine.

The muscles of the core all work in concert to stabilise the human body in space and in motion. They fire and work all day, even while standing still. They help absorb shock and stabilise forces during joint movement.
As you twist, turn and bend through life, these muscles are at work, making sometimes microscopic adjustments to keep your body safe and get it to do what you want it to do in life and in sport.
If you simply raise your hand out straight in front of you and pay attention, you'll notice that there isa small contraction in the trunk of your body, microseconds before your arm raises.

The muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. A strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and protects the back. Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all these muscle groups to be effective.

If you have a weak core, you won't be able to lift as much or run as far as the rest of your body might be able to.

There are a ton of exercises that a good for working out your core, but I'm only going to list a few, but great exercises.
Plank - From Google Images
The Plank is one of the most basic core exercises. It's a static exercise, where you lie on your feet and forearms.
More plank exercises:
  • One-legged planks - lift one leg off the ground.
  • Marching planks (similar to the one-legged plank, but alternate lifting the feet). 

Side Plank - From Google Images
The Side Plank is a good exercise for working the core muscles on the sides, such as the obliques.
More side plank exercises
  • Side plank lifts - This is the dynamic version of the Side plank.
  • X plank - lifting top leg and arm, so you look like a X.

Squat - From Google Images
The Squat
If you've read my blog before, you know that I'm a big fan of the squat, as long as it's free-weights. Even though it's a legs-move, it calls for a strong core as well, since you need to stabilise your trunk, so you don't tip the weight to one side, or don't fall backwards or forwards.
More Squat exercises:
  • Front Squat - instead of having the weight on your back, place it around your collarbone.
  • Lunges.

Glute Bridge - From Google Images
Glute Bridge
More glute bridge exercises
  • Glute bridge lifts - Dynamic version of the static glute bridge.
  • One-legged glute bridges - Similar to the static glute bridge, with 1 foot off the ground, leg extended.
  • One-legged glute bridge lifts - Dynamic version of the static one-legged glute bridge
I do not own the rights to the images used.