The core is much more than just our ‘6-pack’.
The core is a group of muscles that stabilizes and controls the pelvis and spine (and therefore influences the legs and upper body).
The major muscles that move, support and stabilize your spine are called the muscles of the core or trunk.
The major muscles of your core include your transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles and your rectus abdominus (commonly called the 6 pack abs). Your minor muscles include your lats, traps and even your glutes.
Core strength is less about power and more being able to maintain the body in ideal postures — to unload the joints and promote ease of movement.
For the average person, this helps them maintain the ability to get on and off the floor to play with their children or grandchildren, stand up from a chair, sit comfortably at a desk, or vacuum and sweep without pain. Remember, there is so much more to the core then just looking good without a t-shirt on.
Core strength also promotes more efficient movement, therefore preventing injury and improving performance. Having a strong or stable core can often prevent overuse injuries and can help boost resiliency and ease of rehab from acute injury. The core also includes the pelvic floor musculature and maintaining core stability can help treat and prevent certain types of incontinence.
Movements of the core
The main actions of the core include trunk flexion (bending forward) , extension (bend backwards), rotation (twisting), lateral flexion (bend to the side), compression (belly button into spine) and spinal stability (holding you stable).
This is important to understand as this provides insight into the movements, we need to perform in order to train these muscles best!
How to engage the core?
A common problem many people have when training the core or performing core focused exercises is struggling to actually engage their core – which is important!
You can think of core engagement as contracting the appropriate muscles in your midsection so that you create enough stiffness to adequately support your spine and pelvis.
The goal of core engagement is to prevent excessive motion at the spine and the pelvis when force is placed on your body, which happens when you perform pretty much any activity—from walking, running, and jumping to bending, squatting, and picking up a child.
As a baseline, effective core engagement is about specifically contracting the deep stabilizing muscles, which include the transverse abdominis, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, and the multifidus (a thin muscle that lines your spine). These muscle groups need to be engaging and disengaging at the appropriate times in order for the core to be maximally stabilized.
In general, core engagement should feel like there is pressure in your midsection that's spread evenly throughout the abdominal wall from your pelvis to your ribs.
You should feel like everything is ‘cinching’ in towards the centreline of the body
No matter what exercise you are performing the core is a fundamental component, meaning the better we can activate it the stronger we will perform each exercise.
A simple way I like to think of core engagement is by imagining someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Your natural instinct is to clinch and brace which is a great way to think of how the core switches on.
Training the core
Training the core is like training any other muscle.
But it is important to add a variety of different exercises as the core is made up of multiple muscles that all perform different roles/movements as discussed.
Performing just sit-ups won’t cut it.
That doesn’t make sit-ups bad – it just means we are missing out on training the entire core!
So, what are the basic principles?
As posted in our muscle building blog we want to focus on these key things:
1- Frequency: Train these movements 2-3x per week Hence why you’ll find these exercises in most 3PC classes.
2- Volume: 10-20 sets per week
3- Effort: Training close to failure 1-3 reps left in the tank If you are doing each exercise and finish up feeling like you could have done another 5-10 reps that just isn’t good enough! You want to get closer to failure which means more reps, a heavier weight or a slower tempo (or a combination of all 3)
4- Tempo: Slow down and control the movement
5- Rep Ranges: 10-20 reps work best for core-based movements
Here are some of the best core focused exercises:
All compound exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press and shoulder press work the core! They require large amounts of muscle activation which means your core is being targeted.
But more specific exercises include:
Leg Raises and Crunches: Trunk Flexion
Bicycle crunches and Russian twists: Trunk rotation Side plank dips and Side bends: Lateral trunk flexion
Dead bugs and planks: Compression
Weighted carries (farmer carry etc.): Spinal stability
What is the 6 pack?
The ‘6 pack’ muscle is called our Rectus Abdominus.
Its primary function is lumbar flexion (rounding of the spine – think bring your chin to your belly button, that is what this muscle does)
Therefore, to adequately train this muscle we need to be performing spinal flexion movements such as a crunch and leg lift.
One study showed that crunches and leg raise had the greatest muscle activation when compared to other core exercises with crunches having a greater impact on the upper abs and leg raises a greater impact on the lower abs.
So, as a general rule you want to be including exercises that bring your upper torso down to your midline like a crunch and exercises which bring your lower limbs towards your torso like a leg raise.
Most importantly we train these muscles just like any other!
Just like the principles listed above.
Aiming for a minimum of 2x per week (hence why you’ll see these types of exercises in every Mon, Wed, Thurs and Fri class)
10-20 total sets per week
Working to failure or at least 1-3 reps left in the tank (For example if we have a rep range of 10-15 leg raises in the class and you only do 10 each time but find it too easy, these muscles won’t grow!)
Tempo – slow down and control the exercise
Rep range – for the core 10-20 reps is usually the sweet spot!
How do you see the 6 pack?
Just remember abs are built in the gym but revealed in the kitchen.
So, how lean do you need to be to see your abs pop?
Around 8-12% bodyfat for men and
Around 15-21% bodyfat for women
But is it important to be able to see your abs?
Nope! Abs are much more important than just a muscle that looks good with a t-shirt off.
The muscles of the core are arguably the most important muscles in the body as they are used in almost everything we do.
So, core strength should be a priority over their visibility. If you can’t see your abs that doesn’t make you unhealthy. You can still have quite a weak core with a lower body fat percentage. Just because you can see your abs doesn’t mean you have a strong core.
We hope you find this information useful! Please let us know if you have any questions regarding this topic.