The Importance of Core Strength
Walk into any gym and you’re bound to hear somebody talking about “core strength.” But what exactly does that mean? How many muscles make up the core? How many consecutively done crunches constitute a “strong core?”
Let’s start with the basics. The word “core” refers to the central or innermost part of something; that’s exactly what your core is. Your core is made up of a group of centrally located and deep muscles. If you ask most people where their core is, they’ll likely point to their stomach, but your core is so much more than that. The core that most people think of is your abdominal muscles which are made up of 3 muscles: rectus abdominis, obliques and transverse abdominis. The rectus abdominis are the muscles that make up a “6-pack.” Obliques run on the side of the torso. Perhaps most importantly is the transverse abdominis that wraps around your torso under the rectus abdominis and obliques and “holds” everything together. The core includes more than just the abdominal muscles. The iliopsoas (hip muscle), erector spinae (runs down the middle of your back), pelvic floor muscles, deep gluteal muscles and quadratus lumborum (little muscles on each side of your lower back) also make up your core. These muscles are deep in your torso and help your body to stand upright.
The most important function of the core is to provide balance and stability. Without a core, there would be nothing to hold the torso in an upright position. Having a strong core not only improves your balance, stability and posture but also helps build strength elsewhere. By having a strong core you are better able to brace your core which improves your form on lifts. Once your core can be properly braced, more weight can be added. Bracing your core refers to keeping your core muscles tight. A braced core looks like a flat back, with no rounding, and feels like you are not lifting with your back. Take a Romanian Deadlift for example. When doing this exercise, your hips to your shoulders should be flat and “locked down” like a table. If you feel the lift in your back and not your hamstrings, chances are your core is not braced.
Unsurprisingly, a weak core can lead to injury even without weight training. A weak core commonly leads to back issues, which can be related back to bad posture. If the core is not strong enough to hold the body upright the body will slouch, increasing the pressure and demand on the back. However, a weak core can also lead to hip, shoulder and knee injuries. When your core is weak, your balance, stability and posture suffer. Other areas of the body need to overcompensate for the lack of core strength to keep you upright (i.e. lower back). This causes more demand on other parts of the body and can lead to injury.
The core is strengthened in a number of ways. Abdominal exercises have their place in a workout, but doing hundreds and hundreds of crunches is not the answer to developing a stronger core. In fact, without proper form crunches and other abdominal exercises involving flexion can put added stress on the back and lead to injury. Instead, exercises such as plank variations and single arm farmers carry provide a more comprehensive core workout because it includes more muscles of the core. Compound lifts, such as squats and deadlifts will also strengthen the core.
Having a strong core is important when it comes to living a healthy life. Your core is involved in almost everything you do in your daily life. Not only will a strong core improve your balance, stability, posture and overall strength, but it will also decrease the chance of injuries. Remember to train your entire core and not just your abdominals.