Core training is all the rage these days, and the theories and methodologies of core training are so mind-boggling that it will make your head spin. But what exactly is core training? Do you need core training? And if you do, how do you train your core?
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight. People use the terms “core” and “abdominals” interchangeably. But this isn’t correct. While the abdominals are part of the core, they are not the entire core. To be precise, the core consists of the abdominals (there are 4 layers of abdominals), the lower back muscles, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles, as well as the muscles surrounding the hips. Given this definition of “core”, you can see that you can train your core many different ways besides crunches and planks.
Now, let’s talk about the function of the core. There are 2 fundamental things you should know about the core. Firstly, its function is primarily transmit force. It is not meant to generate force. The force is generated from the legs, and transmitted through the core. Secondly, the corollary of the first point is that unlike most muscles in the body, the muscles of the core are more responsible for preventing motion rather than causing motion. What does that exactly mean? That means that a stiff core transmits forces better than a weak core. In that sentence, “stiff” is not used to mean “inflexible.” Rather, by stiff, I mean that it can contract with the right amount of force at the right time.
So now that we have the theory out of the way, let’s get into practice. Knowing that the function of the core is primarily to prevent motion, we’ll need some exercises that make all the muscles in the core contract simultaneously. Why? Because when muscles contract simultaneously, there is no motion. Exactly what we want. So exercises like squats, deadlifts and military presses are great for core training.
I know many of you will object to that, thinking that a squat is a leg exercise, and deadlifts are a lower back/hamstring exercise, etc. And while that’s correct, let’s not forget their effects on the core. Try doing a squat or a deadlift without contracting your core musculature. On second thought, don’t. You’ll get injured. By their nature, to perform a squat, deadlift or military press with good technique will require that your core be contracted.
I’m sure many of you are thinking “what about direct work for the abdominals? Is it necessary? When do I include it?”
If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ll know what a big emphasis I place on individualization. While one person may benefit from direct work on the abdominals (or the lower back, or the diaphragm, etc.), for another person, it will only lead to wasted time, regression or injury. Without specifically assessing you, a blanket statement would not do you justice.
Perhaps in future articles, I can talk about specific assessments you can use to identify your limits to performance.