You know the drill: crunches, leg extensions, barbell rollouts, chops, planks, twists, rows, sit-ups, and deadlifts. All those exercises move you toward a goal of washboard abs. But well-defined abs aren’t the same as having a strong core.
Your “core” is really a group of muscles in your lower back, stomach and hips. Basically, all the muscles you have that are not in your arms and legs. Their function is to keep the spine stable and the body upright. They help bending, rotation, and twisting and are involved in just about every moment you do.
Lower core muscles include, but aren’t limited to:
- Rectus Abdominis (yep, your “abs”) – the superficial layer of the abdominal muscles (or the six-pack). This muscle runs from the ribs to the pelvis and is responsible for trunk flexion (as in crunches). This muscle provides stability to the spine and pelvis when working with the other core muscles.
- Multifudi – the group of muscles that run between the vertebra in the spine providing extension and rotation to each spinal segment. These hold your spine steady.
- Transverse Abdominis – the deepest muscle layer of the abdominals. It’s a belt or brace that runs horizontal attaching to the spine, giving a narrow or slim appearance to your waist. Responsible for spinal stabilization and compression of the abdomen.
- Internal and External Obliques – the intermediate layer of the abdominals. These muscles run oblique from the pelvis (or hips) to the spine and are most effective in trunk rotation (twist).
- Gluteus Maximus/Medius and Minimus – hip muscles located on your buttock that also support and stabilize the hips and spine.
- Erector spinae – these muscles run alongside the spine and are responsible for helping you stand up straight and helping you to bend over backwards.
Advantages of working your core muscles
Working the core creates stronger, more toned muscles that can lead to more flexibility and reduce the likelihood that you’ll injure yourself when core muscles are over-stressed.
Since core muscles contribute to a strong and correct posture, working on those muscles can help you stand taller too. A stronger core also takes weight and pressure off your back, so those crunches are liable to do more good than you thought. Finally, strong core muscles contribute to balance and stability, and reduce your risk of falling.
But what about the abs?
Overtraining abdominal muscles while ignoring muscles of the back and hip can set you up for injuries and actually harm athletic performance. If washboard abs are your target, use focused core exercises while cutting body fat through diet and aerobic exercise.
So working on your core, overall, will help you see results in your abs, and everywhere else. Watch your diet. Watch your form. Watch your abs emerge in a 6-pack. Watch your watch, because it may take a while.