Core strength – what exactly does this mean?

Many people, both qualified and those less so, talk of the importance of core strength, yet often they are unclear on exactly what this is.

Many tend to believe that core training is simply doing crunches, planks and trunk twist exercises. These exercises can be great for assisting in the development of a strong core, but this is not the true definition of core training.

Without the full understanding of how the body works, it’s difficult to fully understand just how important a strong core really is.

More often than not, the glamorous six pack muscles (rectus abdominis) get all the spotlight when people talk about the core.

However the reality is that the core is actually all of the muscles that attach to and support the spine, such as:

  • Transverse Abdominis (TVA): This is the deepest of your abdominal muscles. It lies under your waist muscles (the obliques) and should act like a weight belt, wrapping around your spine for stability and protection
  • External Obliques: These are found on the front and side of your abdomen, around the waist
  • Internal Obliques: These muscles are under your external obliques, and run in the opposite direction
  • Rectus Abdominis: This muscle extends along the front of your abdoment. It is a long muscle and is the celebrated ‘six pack’ that is so often the obsession of young and old. Note, it is only visible when body fat is reduced to the appropriate level to allow it to be seen
  • Erector Spinae: An aggregation of three muscles along the neck to your lower back.

One can even make a case that muscles like your lats, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors can be included as core muscles.

All these muscles all play a significant role in the positioning of the hip complex, and because of this they are major players when it comes to the body’s ability to produce force and stabilise.

Why is it important to have a strong core?

Your core’s key role is stabilise your body during movement. Full stop.

It’s secondary job is to look fly on the beach 😉

Think of your core as the body’s base of support, or foundation. If the core is not strong, then your body’s foundation is weak.

Your extremities (arms, legs, feet, hands) can only produce a limited amount of force when supported by a weak foundation – so improve your core strength if you’re looking to run faster or lift heavier than ever.

A good metaphor for the concept of a strong foundation is imagining firing a cannon from a warship versus a kayak. One will generate an substantial amount of explosive force; the other will likely misfire and sink the vessel.

In simple terms, your body works more or less in the same way. If your core is weak and your extremities produce more force than your base of support can handle, you are going to move and lift inefficiently or – worse still – get injured.

A young woman doing the warrior yoga pose and demonstrating her core strength.

How to build a stronger core?

Effectively building a strong core cannot be done by laying on your back or sitting on your ergonomic chair, nor can it be achieved by obsessively undertaking crunches all day long.

Ab work helps, but it is only a small piece of this puzzle.

The most effective way to build a strong core is to get up and move!

Perform lifts and movements that have limited support from an outside source. This means less time on machines and benches, and instead getting on your feet. Step away from the linear, same plane, gym equipment for a while.

Exercises like squats, standing over head presses, lunges, pull ups and bent over rows should all be staples in your training program. Too many people fall into the trap of doing the easy and simple lifts.

If you’d like to know more about some core strength exercises that you can do at home, see here.

Think about hiring a qualified personal trainer for a few sessions. They will be able to assist you in designing an appropriately challenging exercise routine that will, given time and commitment, strengthen your inner abdominal wall effectively.

You cannot go wrong by undertaking more movement designed to strengthen your core. Your body will feel better for it.

Do movement variations that challenge your body’s ability to stabilise itself. You’ll be stronger, have less pain, move better and decrease your likelihood of injury caused by a weak and unstable core.

Related: Looking for a home exercise machine that will help with core strength? Consider a rowing machine and read our reviews of the best available in Australia here.