By Alyssa Mazzella, B.S., CPT
Having a solid foundation in all forms, is the basis to perfecting any exercise. However, that solid foundation must first begin with having a strong core. When most people hear of “core exercises” they assume either planks or crunches, but there is so much more to the abdomen, back and pelvis than just two exercises. Perfecting a strong core begins with training all three different sections of resistance; anti-rotation, anti-extension, and anti-lateral flexion. Knowledge is power; understanding what the “core” is made up of and how to actively and correctly train your core, are the first steps to improving overall body fitness and healthy.
There are 4 different muscle groups that make up what we call our “abs”. There are two types of obliques; external, which is the most superficial (outermost) of the two, and internal, which is located beneath the external oblique. The external oblique muscles run from the bottom half of the ribs to the pelvis. The internal oblique muscles run along the lower back and outer edge of the pelvis and ends at the lower-front of the pelvis and the rectus sheath (a fibrous tissue that covers the abdominal muscles). The Rectus abdominis muscles, or better known as the infamous “six-pack” abs, originate at the crest of the pubis and inserts at the costal cartilage of ribs 5-7 and the xiphoid process of the sternum. The Transverse abdominis originate at the iliac crest, inguinal ligament, thoracolumbar fascia, and costal cartilages 7-12, and insert at the xiphoid process, linea alba, pubic crest, and the pectin pubis via the conjoint tendon.
The external obliques are responsible for increasing intra-abdominal pressure (which helps us stabilize for lifting heavier without getting injuries), flexes (forward bends) the torso, side bends the torso to the same side, and rotates the torso to the opposite side.
The internal obliques muscle provides support to the abdominal wall, is an opposing muscle to the diaphragm and assists in forced expiration, increases abdominal pressure, as well as flexes and rotates the torso to the same side. The rectus abdominis muscles flex the lumbar spine and the Transverse abdominis is the deepest of all the abdominal muscles so it helps protect the internal organs and also increases abdominal pressure.
The take away from that: rectus abdominus is trunk flexion/bending (crunch/ sit-up comes), the transverse abdominis is the deepest of the muscles so its main purpose is for spinal stabilization and keeping us upright and strong, and our obliques rotate and side bend the trunk as well as aid in spinal stabilization.
Since each section of the core needs to be actively trained, various exercises in multiple planes are necessary. Anti-rotation is the ability of the core to resist twisting. Anti-rotation exercises can be performed by training muscles one side at a time, while keeping the body as stationary as possible.
Anti-extension is the ability of the core muscles to resist the extension of the spine. Anti-extension exercises require the individual to resist the core/lower back (Lumbar spine) from arching or overextending backwards.
Anti-Lateral Flexion is the ability of the core muscles to resist a sideways bend. Anti-Lateral Flexion exercises can be performed by an individual by stabilizing their spine to hold a perfectly vertical (upright) /horizontal posture (depending on the exercise chosen).
All of these exercises can be performed individually or can be combined to form a more complex exercise that challenges core stabilization in multiple planes. It is important in every exercise routine to incorporate all three main types of core exercises and not just focus on spinal flexion.
Knowing what exercises to do is just as important as knowing how to actively engage/ turn on your core. Every exercise performed utilizes the core muscles in some way, depending on how much stability is required during the exercise, will determine how much the core is being used.
A few steps I tell my clients in order to have them properly activate their core are as follows:
The core tension gives a person the ability to remain upright during exercise and everyday activities. Building a strong core will increase performance and help support a stiffer more stable spine resulting in stronger lifts and less injuries.
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