One of the hottest topics in exercise training is “core” training, and confusion abounds. Initially, I find many of my clients think the core is the abdominal muscles. They are part right. The core not only consists of the front ab muscles, the rectus abdominis, but also the internal/external obliques (twisting), transverse abdominis (deep front muscle), hip flexors and adductors, the gluteus muscles, erector spinae and mulitifidi (small spinal muscles). All of these muscles form the core, and need to be strengthened correctly; the question is how? There are many misconceptions and disagreements about core training; many differences in philosophies. Here’s my take. Too many core exercises are done on the floor. While these types of core exercises may be necessary for someone who is suffering from an acute injury, it is not the optimal way to strengthen, in a functional way, the core. In a relatively healthy individual, most of these floor exercises are a waste of time and effort. Why? Because once one lies on the floor, half of the core muscles shut off because they do not have to stabilize the body against gravity or other external forces (we do very few activities while lying down). The best way to strengthen core muscles is through functional movement exercises. I focus on Achieving strength, stability, and gaining motion in the hips and thoracic spine. These are two areas designed to generate movement. Too many instructors are focused on the lumbar or low back area, substituting lumbar flexion for hip flexion. Folks, you want your lumbar area to be stable-it’s not designed for a lot of motion, whereas the hips are. What I see in gyms is people doing core training with the best intentions in the world, but they are getting nowhere at best and putting themselves at risk for injury. (There is an excellent overview of the “core” written by Michael Boyle, MEd, ATC, in Training & Conditioning, December, 2012). I’ve shot a short video which will appear on my website in the next couple of days. Check it out.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.