Having a strong, functional core has nothing to do with how great your six pack looks or how many situps and crunches you crank out.
The term “core” gets tossed around like a rag doll (pun intended) these days in the fitness industry. The number one tip most trainers tell people is to “strengthen your core.”
This would be a great tip if people knew what muscles made up the core. The first thing most gym goers do when they are told to strengthen their core is crunches on crunches on crunches.
While crunches are a great way to work on those washboard abs, they honestly provide little value in core development, leaving you vulnerable to muscle imbalances and numerous over training injuries. We must balance out the entire core.
The best way to understand how to properly develop the core is to learn what muscles are involved in the core. Without getting too technical, I will give you a brief description of the areas that make up your core.
As we discussed prior, the abdominals (Stomach muscles) make up only a portion of the core. It’s important to know your abdomen has 3 layers of muscles. The Rectus Abdominis is the most well known layer that essentially makes up the “six pack” look.
The second layer is the obliques (Side muscles from waist to ribs) which make up an integral part of our balance and and motion. The third layer of muscles and arguably the most important of all the abdominal layers is the transverse abdominals.
Having a strong transverse layer leads to raw power and explosive strength. This layer is also responsible for maintaining proper posture, bone structure and spinal health.
Most people have never heard of the transverse layer in the stomach, nor know how to activate these muscles to receive the benefits. A few great exercises for this are pelvic tilts while lying on your back, cat/cow in tabletop position, somersaults, planks and roman chair crunches. Also see my article, “ Real Men Vacuum” for unique abdominal workouts.
Everything but the stomach
Now that we’ve addressed the common areas of focus for core development let’s progress into everything else that is the core.
When we address the core we must recognize the muscles in our back. Beginning up top with the trapezius muscles and a portion of the rear delt, we must acknowledge the muscles for aiding in postural awareness and setting the shoulders in proper position to be the most mobile joint in the entire body.
Below the trapezius you will find the latissimus dorsi, which are known as one of the largest muscles in the entire body. Unfortunately, most people do not know how to properly activate these muscles, limiting themselves to a fraction of the power their body possesses.
Without proper lat awareness core strength, power and structural integrity is jeopardized. See my article, “ Mini Pull Ups Achieve Major Results” for proper lat activation.
The lats also frame the erector spinae, which is another deep layered muscle contributing to the health of your spine and major core strength. To work the erector spinae it’s important to focus on compound movements involving the posterior chain of muscles, such as deadlifts, squats, glute bridges and bird dogs.
Which brings us to our next core value focus, the glutes. The gluteal muscles bridge the gap between the top half and lower half of our body. While this may be obvious, most people don’t realize the gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the body.
The glutes are a major contributor to postural strength, jumping ability and explosive power when sprinting. See my article, “ Spring Training” for more on glute activation.
Last BUT not Least
Finally, if you’ve never heard of your pelvic floor then I highly suggest you take some time and dive deep into this subject. Being a yogi and strength trainer, pelvic floor activation is by far the most catalyzing discovery of my fitness career and maintaining a strong core.
Some people do this very naturally; however, others do not and this leads to many other issues. The good news is strengthening the pelvic floor is a simple as watching TV.
When we combine pelvic floor activation with the other muscle groups mentioned above, the core operates like a well oiled Megatron allowing ultimate strength, power and ability. See my blog, “Real Men Vacuum” for more on pelvic floor activation and development.
When on the mat or in the weight room I always maintain awareness of these “Core Values”. The mentors and peers I observe who practice awareness of these core muscles continue to progress each year in their fitness journey. Many of them are still going strong into their late 90’s. While there may never be a fountain of youth for us to drink from, maintaining a strong functional core is by far one of the biggest keys to staying young forever.
Josh was born and raised in Lexington, KY. He played collegiate soccer at Transylvania University where he also studied business and psychology. Upon graduating college in 2002 he chose to begin a professional career as a restaurateur. Josh watched his business grow exponentially over the course of a decade, while he watched his health steadily declined. In 2011 Josh developed a mysterious disease, that modern medicine could not explain. He decided to embark on an optimal health journey to discover a cure. His journey lead him to receive his certifications as a personal trainer, RKC Kettlebell instructor and Yoga Alliance instructor. Josh’s unique combination of business, personal training and ayurvedic nutrition experience organically spawned a system that is guaranteed to upgrade the life of everyone from office executive to professional athlete. Josh now pursues his passion in teaching others to find their perfect work, life balance.
Main Photo Credit: Jacob Lund/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit; Third Photo Credit & Fourth Photo Credit: design36/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: holbox/shutterstock.com