Recent trends in the exercise and fitness industry are peppered with the phrase “core strength.” What does it really mean? Core refers to the muscles of your abs and back and their ability to support your spine and keep your body stable and balanced. Achieving a strong overall core will allow you to reduce back pain, have better balance and get strong, flat abs.
There are four key layers of the abdominal wall. Most people think that their abs are separated into lower and upper portion, but in reality it is all one muscle group that works synergistically to rotate your torso, flex your spine and stand tall.
The most superficial layer — Rectus Abdominis — is on top and closest to your belly button. This layer is the sought-after six pack that everyone wants to have visible. When you flex your spine and bend forward this particular muscle layer works to achieve just that. Underneath the rectus abdominis lie the internal and external obliques that allow your torso to bend side to side.
The deepest layer, the one closest to your spine, is the transverse abdominis (tva). This is the muscle responsible for the flattening effect of your abs and also the one to target for achieving optimal core strength. Working your deep stabilizer muscles of the torso — your core — creates this wonderful “corset” effect that works to flatten and tighten your waistline and give it a tighter and toned appearance.
The best overall exercises to improve the strength of your core are: forearm plank, wood chop and the bicycle manoeuvre. These exercises can be executed at the gym or at home. For best results perform each of these exercises three times a week: two sets of 20 repetitions or at the level prescribed for your fitness.
During any abdominal exercise, all four muscles in your core work together as a team. However, it is a great idea to involve moves that target each individual muscle into your workouts. For safety it is important to engage your pelvic floor and keep your abdominal wall contracted throughout each exercise execution and be sure to not let your lower back arch.
The plank primarily targets the transverse abdominis. The wood chop focuses on the internal and external obliques. The bicycle targets all four layers.
The other component to achieving core strength is challenging cardiovascular work that involves balance and stability, such as using the elliptical machine without holding on to the handles and running on unstable ground or sand. Any exercise that involves the use of a stability ball will also work your core and challenge it in many ways. Yoga and Pilates also serve as a great complement to your existing exercise routine to enhance core strength.
Doris Ward, Fitness NB Certified Personal Trainer, Certified STOTT Pilates Instructor: firstname.lastname@example.org