In this week’s blog, I want to discuss with you the concept of training “the core” musculature. I’m sure you will have heard myself or one of the other trainers refer to this section of your body during your training. However, oftentimes core training is thought to be strengthening your rectus abdominus (abs) musculature alone, but it is so much more than that.
It involves a number of muscles that originate in and around your abdominal region, all functioning to help support your lower spine and hips. It is sometimes referred to as lumbopelvic control, that is, control of the lumbar section of your spine (lower back), and your pelvis (hip bone) during movement. It involves a bi play between the strength (simply, the amount of external force they can withstand) and the neuromuscular control (the timing and organization of neural signals being sent to certain muscles during certain movements) that these muscles can exhibit . If one or both factors is deficient, the core is unable to do its job effectively and the body may be at a heightened risk of injury as a result .
When the body’s core musculature is working in an efficient manner, prior to an exercise or bodily movement, these muscles start contracting and continue to contract in a timely and organized manner to stabilize the lower spine and hips. This allows for safe, controlled movement of this region during any bodily task. However, when the core is weak, or the neuromuscular timing/strength of contraction is off, there is a lag between, or the signal is not strong enough when these muscles fire to help brace our lower back and hips and the beginning of the movement itself . This in turn can cause issues in this region of the body (lower back pain, hip pain), especially the lower spinal segments and muscles that attach to them . However, it can impact the body up and down the kinetic chain as well (in other words, it can impact the way the entire body functions) .
Some of the muscles that the core consists of are the rectus abdominus (abs), internal and external obliques (obliques) and the transverse abdominus (the body’s own corset, which wraps around under your abs and attaches to your lower spine). These and more can be seen in the diagram below.
Of the above muscles, there has been particular attention directed towards the significance of the transverse abdominus muscle. It is thought to have important stabilization qualities, considering the orientation of its fibres. As I mentioned just prior, this muscle is thought to be our body’s own internal corset. When it contracts, it “hollows in” the abdominal cavity, creating stability around the lower spine . Research conducted almost 20 years ago found that the transversus abdominis was shown to contract 110 milliseconds before movement of the lower limbs in healthy people (theoretically, to stabilize the lumbar spine) . However, when patients exhibited lower back pain, this timing was delayed significantly .
Hopefully the above information gives you a slightly better understanding of what we’re referring to when we say core exercises or engaging your core in general. Remember, it’s not just your abdominals. It’s an intricate system of muscles, both superficial and deep, contributing to stabilizing your hips and lower back during movements.
As always, if you have any questions or queries, I’m happy to provide you with more detail if need be.
See you in the gym.
- Akuthota V, Ferreiro A, Moore T, Fredericson M. Core stability exercise principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2008; 1;7(1):39-44.
- Kibler WB, Press J, Sciascia A. The role of core stability in athletic function. Sports medicine. 2006; 1;36(3):189-98.