Your “core” generally refers to muscles in and around your torso that help move, support, and stabilize your spine, trunk and pelvis; including those that make up your pelvic floor, mid and lower back, and abdomen.
Why is your core important?
Your core is one of the most important parts of your body not only because it protects your spine and the muscles around it from injury during movements, but because it also helps you perform these movements in the first place. The core includes all the muscles from the ribcage to the pelvis.
Responsible for determining a large part of your posture, your core keeps your spine, ribs, and pelvis aligned by contracting around them so that they can resist different forces, whether you’re standing still or moving. You’ll find that because of this, your core is still active in most exercises, even when training other areas.
Core exercises target multiple muscle groups at the same time so your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen work in harmony. Having a strong core helps improve your balance and stability whether you’re hard at work in the gym or performing other daily activities. Conversely, having a weak core can unfortunately lead to poor posture, poor performance, lower body injury, and lower back pain.
What Muscles Does your Core Include?
Your “core” specifically refers to your lumbo pelvic-hip complex, which includes deeper muscles, such as your internal obliques, transversus abdominis, transversospinalis (multifidus, rotatores, semispinalis), quadratus lumborum, and psoas major and minor; and superficial muscles, such as your rectus abdominis, external obliques, erector spinae (iliocostalis, spinalis, longissimus), latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings, and rectus femoris. Below you’ll find 2 tables including these muscles and what each of them are mainly responsible for!
Layers of the Core
Deep Core Muscles
Deep core muscles are located under, the larger superficial core muscles. The job of the deeper core muscles is to stabilize and protect the spine. These core muscles are constantly active all day long, helping protect your spine. These muscles activate or "turn on" in anticipation of movement. They help our body prepare for movement, shifting our weight and load transfer. It is important to know how to activate these muscles properly in the management and prevention of back pain. These deep core muscles also help move your rib cage, and assist with breathing. These muscles also help with the movement of your trunk in all directions like rotation, flexion, extension and side bending.
A common mistake is to strengthen the outer core muscles without learning how to recruit the deeper core muscles. A physiotherapist can help teach you how to activate your deep core muscles.
Superficial Core Muscles
These muscles are located on top of the deeper core muscles and are the main movers of your trunk in all directions. The muscle most often associated with making up your "core" is the rectus abdominis, or "the six pack muscle" and it is in charge of flexing your trunk. Other muscles like the latissimus dorsi "your lats" and oblique muscles help rotate your trunk, and finally your gluteus muscles, hamstrings and Erector spinalis muscles help extend your trunk.
These muscles help control the muscles of your trunk are active during all full body movements. Strengthening these muscles helps improve balance and overall athletic performance.
Why should you strengthen your core?
A lack of strength of the core increases the pressure placed on passive structures such as (ligaments, bone/joints, discs, capsules) of the spine due to lack of support and stabilization when moving. If the passive structures are not supported with the core over a prolonged period of time, injury or dysfunctions such as stiffness or poor movement patterns may occur causing pain. During exercise or sports, if an athlete does not engage their core in anticipation of a movement or lifting weights, increased load is placed on the passive system of the back and pelvis, possibly leading to an injury.
Any exercise that involves using your abdominal and back muscles in coordinated fashion counts as a core exercise. Using any kind of weight in a manner that involves maintaining your trunk stable can train and strengthen several of your muscles, including your core muscles.
To best improve your core stability, you should try exercises that use both your smaller, deeper core muscles and your larger, superficial core muscles in a way that contracts them together with the right timing and tension. Multi Joint free weight exercises, have shown to be significant in trying to increase core strength even when non-core-specific.
Some great core activating exercises you should try include: