What Does “Working Your Core” Mean, Exactly?
You hear it all the time. “Work your core,” “Tone your core,” “Get fit by working your core.”
Those phrases populate many a fitness infomercial. It’s featured in article after article in all the leading health magazines. Sure, it might sound good, but the editors hardly ever go into detail about what the heck it means. What is the core? Why is it important? And once you have all of that figured out, how can you work it out?
That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
What Muscles Make Up the Core?
A lot of people assume that the core is just another word for the abdominal muscles, but this isn’t the case. The core actually includes the lower back, buttocks, and thighs as well. These muscles all work together to allow you to complete a variety of everyday tasks like stand up straight, bend, and lift.
Now, to get specific, the abdominal muscles in the core include the rectus abdominus, external obliques, internal obliques, and the transverse abdominus. The back muscles in the core include the erector spinae, paraspinals, psoas major, and quadratus lumborum. The hips and gluteus maximus are also included.
Strong Core=Strong Body
Building up strong core muscles is about more than getting a toned physique or flat abs. Rather, increasing your core strength increases the strength in your entire body. These exercises train all of the parts that make up your core to work together, according to the Mayo Clinic, creating a stabler, more balanced body. You’ll stand taller and have better posture. This can reduce back pain and combat the fatigue you might experience from sitting at a desk at work. Firm core muscles help you to sit up straight, giving you a stronger back and reducing the likelihood that you’ll be hunched over as you age.
Once you’ve built up some core strength, you’ll find that it’s easier to complete certain activities from lifting heavy objects to participating in sports.
Many workouts include a focus on the core. That’s likely because the core muscles are required to complete just about every movement! Need to lift your leg? You’re working your core. Need to balance? You’re working your core. However, some workouts emphasize the core muscles more than others.
Workout programs like Pilates and yoga build core strength, muscle stability, and balance. The entire focus of Pilates is on the core, so every single movement is designed to coordinate your breathing with tightening and toning the abdomen. Yoga focuses on combining meditation with movement. Many of the poses build and/or require core strength like Warrior II Pose, Extended Triangle Pose, and Dancer’s Pose.
If Pilates or yoga aren’t your thing, specific exercises target the core as well like leg lifts and bicycle crunches. They can be easily incorporated into your current workout plan.
You can even build core strength while sitting at your desk: Tighten your abs and sit up straight. Imagine your belly button is being pulled inward and upward to target the right muscles. Hold this for as long as you can and repeat often. It will have the effect of encouraging good posture–without putting strain on your lower back.