There may be no buzzword more powerful or overused than “core”. It seems like every single product, workout, and trainer specializes in “activating the core”. Heck, even we are doing it aren’t we? CoreStrength1 is a name we are proud of, while also being an ode to one of the most powerful motivators in fitness – core training.
Buzzword or not, the core is an integral region of the body with important responsibilities in human movement. It is made up of many muscles, is involved in every movement pattern we’ll ever attempt, can create, stop, and translate force production, and is a prerequisite for everything from postural health to athleticism.
When done right, core training doesn’t need to be flashy. All the crunches and bicycles in the world won’t give you a rock-solid mid-section that is capable of withstanding and producing high levels of force. Compound lifts, anti-movements, non-linear 3D movements, and even a little abdominal-specific training work together to build the perfect core.
Before we talk training protocols, let’s take the time to acknowledge the anatomy and kinesiology of the core.
The core is often misunderstood as just the muscles that line the anterior part of the body between the ribs and pelvis. Surely, muscles such as the transverse abdominus, rectus abdominals, and the internal and external obliques are a part of the core. These muscles exist at the spine to either:
- Stabilize and maintain tension/pressure in the abdominal cavity
- Flex the spine (or resist flexion)
- Rotate and laterally flex the spine (or resist these movements)
The core, though, is made up of so much more. We must include muscles on the posterior region of our body too. These muscles include the gluteals, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and even your latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius.
- The erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, latissimus dorsi, and lower trapezius are the muscles responsible for extension of the spine (particularly the lumbar and thoracic regions).
- The stability of the scapula in retraction, depression, and downward rotation is driven by the latissimus dorsi, lower trapezius, rhomboids, and other key upper back and shoulder muscles.
- The gluteals (all 3) function to extend the pelvis and create posterior pelvic tilt.
It doesn’t end there either.
You could argue that muscles such as the adductors and quadriceps play a role in balancing hip flexion and integrating rotation between the lower limbs and the core.
Understanding the players on the field is only half the battle. We must also know the job each must do uniquely and as a team in order to design the best plan.
The human core has a singular primary function and two other secondary functions.
- Force Transduction – The core’s primary function, force transduction, simply implies that the muscles and structures of the core region are designed to translate force from the upper limbs to the lower limbs and vice versa. Like an electrical wire that connects an outlet to a device, the core keeps the power flowing.
- Force Reduction – The muscles and structure of the core operate to decelerate the body against external forces to stabilize the body and protect the spine and internal organs. This is the entire mindset behind “anti-training”. Athletes and general population alike must learn to slow and stop forces acting upon them.
- Force Production – Lastly, the core muscles function to create force to overcome resistance and initiate movement. Whether it is a sprinter at full speed, a basketball player crossing over a defender, or a Mom lifting her child onto her hip from the ground, the core musculature must produce forces.
Now that you’ve had a quick lesson on what constitutes the core and how it should function optimally, it is time to dive into what should be in your training programs. Ultimately, every program you write should have some level of the following in them. As always, what exercise you choose is dependent upon the needs, wants, and abilities of your client.
A compound lift is any movement in which multiple joints (and the muscles that move them) are working to overcome an external resistance. These movements could be bilateral or unilateral and are performed primarily in only one movement plane at a time (due to the load we should be using).
The primary lifting patterns such as the deadlift, squat, press, row, swing, get-up, and others work the core when done correctly by asking for the muscles to contract isometrically to keep the length of the spine, and its neutral curve, safe. They ask for all three functions of the core depending on the task.
For example, a deadlift asks for an anterior pelvic tilt, a slightly lordotic lumbar spine, and extended thoracic spine, and depression/downward rotation of the scapula regardless of implement. Proper foot mechanics and hip/knee/ankle action will also activate the adductors. Every muscle mentioned earlier is firing in this example.
- Stability Patterns (Anti-movements)
Stability patterns are important for similar reasons as compound lifts. We are asking the body to resist forces and prevent the body from breaking, or moving, in any of its 4 possibilities:
- Lateral Flexion
Any of these movements are fine in the right circumstances, but we use stability movements to help clients improve their force transduction capabilities while also helping them reduce forces on the body.
The core is designed to flex and relax as necessary to create movement. Think of how a dancer glides and slides across a floor with effortlessness. Sure, there is plenty of practice and coordination, but there is also and incredible amount of core control and strength.
Training movements such as multiplanar lunges and reaches with the right tools can help someone elevate their core training, their sport preparation, and their spinal stability.
Last on our depth chart is all the traditional core work that you’ve come to know, mostly focused upon the rectus abdominals and obliques. These exercises actively promote flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion of the spine, which is OK in the right populations.
We want to minimize these exercises in everyone and instead focus on the above concepts, but there is always a place for them if a client is cleared.
Put it to Work
At CoreStrength1, we take our brand name to heart in all that we do. We are always looking to integrate one of the core’s primary functions in our exercise selections. Our jump lunges ask for force reduction, while our medicine ball throws ask for active core flexion (force production).
We ask our clients and trainers to all do the same thing – honor the rules of the road and always keep the spine safe in training. Be smart, have fun, and integrate the CS1 platform into your sessions and watch your client’s reach a new level.