What Are the Core Muscles?
Let’s start by identifying the muscles that make up the core. There are five major core muscles. They all hold a different function and work together to create stability and movement in the core. To break them down simply, here are the names of the muscles, their location in the body, and their function(s):
1. Rectus Abdominis
Function: Bend forward, side bend
2. Erector Spinae
Location: Back, along the spine
Function: Backbend or stand upright, side bend
3. Obliques, Internal and External
Function: Twist to both sides, side bend
4. Transverse Abdominis
Location: Wraps around, back to front
Function: Compression or draw navel inward
Function: Spinal Stability
These muscles are your foundation, like the foundation of a house. They are the base that holds everything up and supports it. The rest of your body stems from your core, i.e. hips, shoulders, legs, arms, etc. Which means, if your core isn’t strong enough to hold everything up and support it, just like a house, the body could begin to crumble. When your core muscles can’t properly do their job, other muscles in your body step in and make up for it. The problem with that is, those other muscles end up doing a job they weren’t meant to do. They take on more work than they can really handle. This is how back, knee, and other types of injuries can often occur.
For example, many lower back injuries are often associated with weak core muscles. In this case, when core muscles are weak, the lower back takes on the work the core muscles were meant to do. All the muscles in the body need to be trained equally so they can all do their own job properly. Strengthening your core builds a strong foundation for your body and helps the rest of your body be even stronger.
Here are five exercises that, together, strengthen the entire core:
1. Bird Dog
Muscles worked: Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominis, Multifidus
How to do it: Come down to the floor on all fours, hands directly under shoulders, knees under hips. Draw belly button into your spine. Extend your right arm in front of you and your left leg behind you, straightening both limbs as much as possible. Lower them back down to the floor into all fours position. Do the same on the other side with the left arm and right leg. Repeat all repetitions, continuing to alternate sides.
2. Side Plank with Hip Raise
Muscles worked: Obliques, Transverse Abdominis, Multifidus
How to do it: Lie on your left side. Fold your left arm under you so your elbow is directly under your shoulder and your forearm is flat on the floor. You can either stack your feet on top of each other, put them both sideways on the floor, top in front, bottom in back, or fold your left leg under you and extend your right leg straight, placing the inside of your right foot on the floor. Put your right hand either straight up in the air, on your hip or on the floor in front of you. Draw your belly button in toward your spine and squeeze your glutes together. Lift your hips straight up off the floor until your body is in one straight, diagonal line from your shoulders down to your ankles. Lower down. Continue all reps on the left side before changing to your right side.
3. Reverse Crunch
Muscle worked: Rectus Abdominis
How to do it: Lie on the floor on your back with your arms on the floor by your side. You can also place your hands under your hips if you feel pulling in your back. Bring your legs up to a tabletop position with knees bent at 90 degrees. Draw your belly button in toward your spine. Slowly lower your feet down toward the floor. Do not touch the floor and do not let your back lift off the floor. Slowly bring your knees back up toward your chest and roll your hips off the floor slightly. Repeat.
4. Dead Bug
Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, Transverse Abdominis, Erector spinae
How to do it: Lie on the floor flat on your back. Bring arms straight up toward the ceiling over your chest and shoulders. Bring your legs up to tabletop position with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, knees directly over hips. Keeping arms straight, extend your left arm overhead and behind down to the floor and extend your right leg straight and down to the floor. Return arm and leg to start position. Switch sides, extending your right arm and left leg out straight and to the floor. Keep alternating sides, repeat all reps.
5. Full Plank or Forearm Plank
Muscles worked, Rectus Abdominis, Transverse abdominis, Obliques
How to do it: Lie on the floor on your stomach. For a full plank, place your hands directly under your shoulders. For a Forearm plank, bend your elbows and place them directly under your shoulders with your forearms and hands pointed out straight in front of you making a 90-degree angle with your arms. Bring your body up off the floor so that you are balanced on your toes and hands for full plank, or toes and forearms for forearm plank. Your body should be in one straight, diagonal line from your shoulders to your ankles. Squeeze your glutes and quads and draw your navel in toward your spine. Hold this position for as long as possible.
Should You Train Abs Daily?
Lots of people ask this. Some people do it. Here is my opinion. Your abdominal muscles are just that, muscles. They are the same kind of muscles (called skeletal muscles) as your quads, biceps, glutes, and every other area that you strength train. As I stated above, all the muscles in the body need to be trained equally so they can all do their own job properly. Do you strength train those other muscle groups every day? Personally, I don’t, because your muscles need recovery time to get stronger. When you strength train, you tear your muscles down. They need recovery time to build back up. Your abdominal muscles need that recovery time, too. If you do not allow your muscles to recover properly, the result can often be injury. In my opinion, if you are strength training any area of your body daily, abdominals included, you should rethink it.
The Sought-After ‘Six-Pack’
When someone’s ‘six-pack’ is visible on their body, that means they have a strong core, right? Not necessarily. Ever hear the term, ‘abs are made in the kitchen’? There is a reason gym-goers say that. It’s because decreasing body fat is more strongly controlled through nutrition. Lifting weights is a key part of the equation when it comes to decreasing body fat. However, nutrition is a much larger part of the equation. When you can see someone’s abs (or other muscles, in general) it’s because their body fat percentage is low enough to show their muscles. This does not necessarily dictate how much weight someone can lift in the gym or how strong they are.
Part of building a strong body is building a strong core. To build a strong core, make sure you include regular core strengthening into your workout routine. If you are looking to get those visible abs, focus hard on good nutrition. If you want both of these things, do them both!