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Building a Strong Core

Dec 30, 2007

Building core muscle strength requires more than just ab
exercises
Core conditioning and abdominal conditioning have become
synonymous in recent years but the abdominal muscles alone
are over-rated when it comes to real core strength or
conditioning. In reality, the abdominal muscles have very
limited and specific action. The "core" actually consists
of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and
pelvis and run the entire length of the torso. These
muscles stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder and
provide a solid foundation for movement in the extremities.
Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all
these muscle groups to be effective. The muscles of the
core make it possible to stand upright and move on two
feet. These muscles help control movements, transfer
energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. A
strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and
protects the back.

What are the Core Muscles?
The list of muscles that make up the "core" is somewhat
arbitrary and different experts include different muscles.
In general, the muscles of the core run the length of the
trunk and torso; and when they contract they stabilize the
spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base
of support. We are then able to generate powerful movements
of the extremities. The following list includes the most
commonly identified core muscles as well as the lesser
known groups. The goal of core stability is to maintain a
solid, foundation and transfer energy from the center of
the body out to the limbs. Muscles that accomplish this
goal include:
Rectus Abdominis - located along the front of the abdomen,
this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often
referred to as the "six-pack" due to it's appearance in fit
and thin individuals.

Multifidus - located under the erector spinae along the
vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine
the spine.

External Obliques - located on the side and front of the
abdomen.

Internal Obliques - located under the external obliques,
running in the opposite direction.

Transverse Abdominis (TVA) - located under the obliques, it
is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your
waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and
stability.

Erector Spinae- This group of three muscles runs along your
neck to your lower back.

Hip Flexors - including the Iliopsoas, rectus femoris,
tensor fascia lata - located in front of the pelvis and
upper thigh.

Gluteus medius and minimus - located at the side of the hip

Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis - located in
the back of the hip and upper thigh leg.

Hip adductors - located at medial thigh.

Strengthening the Core Reduces Back Pain
Abdominals get all the credit for protecting the back and
being the foundation of strength, but they are only a small
part of what makes up the core. In fact, it is weak and
unbalanced core muscles that are linked to low back pain.
Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate
lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced
core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce
strain on the spine.

Core Strength Training and Athletic Performance
Because the muscles of the trunk and torso stabilize the
spine from the pelvis to the neck and shoulder, they allow
the transfer of powerful movements of the arms and legs.
All powerful movements originate from the center of the
body out, and never from the limbs alone. Before any
powerful, rapid muscle contractions can occur in the limbs,
the spine must be solid and stable and the more stable the
core, the most powerful the extremities can contract.

Training the muscles of the core also corrects postural
imbalances that can lead to injuries. The biggest benefit
of core training is to develop functional fitness - that
is, fitness that is essential to both daily living and
regular activities.

Core strengthening exercises are most effective when the
torso works as a solid unit and both front and back muscles
contract at the same time, multi joint movements are
performed and stabilization of the spine is monitored.

Written by Elizabet Quinn
About.com Health's Disease and Condition content is
reviewed by Rich Fogoros, MD

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