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Clearing Something Up About Your Core

There is a common misconception that your core consists of solely your abdominal muscles; however, your core is far more complex than just the abdominal muscles. Your core is made up of many muscles throughout your trunk and lower limbs that serve many purposes, and while your abs are a major aspect of your core, they are only a piece of the larger, more complex whole. In the following sections, we’ll explore the muscles of your core, its functions, and signs that your core is weak.

The Abdominal Muscles

Obliques, Abdominis Rectus, and Transversus Abdominis

The abdominal muscles ⁠— the most popular muscles of the core ⁠— make up a significant portion of your core as a whole, and they are comprised of three major sets of muscles. First, the obliques are found on the sides of your stomach area and face the front of the body at a downward angle. Next, the abdominis rectus is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and it can be found behind the obliques. Third, we have the transversus abdominis; this muscle is the muscle commonly referred to as “abs” or a six-pack. Together, these muscles act as a whole to aid in balance and to maintain good posture.

The Lower Limbs

The Gluteus Maximus and Medius

The gluteus maximus and gluteus medius are two muscles very important to the body. The gluteus maximus is one of the largest and strongest muscles found in the human body, and it is responsible for the power necessary to squat or break into a sprint. On the other hand, the gluteus medius is primarily responsible for stability and balance when standing on one leg.

A man is preparing for a compound lift which will be beneficial to his core.
A man preparing for a lift.

The Hip Adductor

The hip adductors are also imperative to the effective functioning of the body. Hip adductors have a significant impact on movement and are primarily responsible for (obviously) adduction of the hip joint. However, they also are important for movement as they are responsible for stability while moving.

The Muscles of the Back

The Trapezius

The trapezius is a large muscle that (if you’re really imaginative) kind of looks like a trapezoid. It is at the top of your back and supports your shoulder blade. The trapezius muscle is responsible for any rowing motions and, as far as core function goes, is also accountable for upright posture and holding the shoulders back.

The Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, or lats as they are affectionately known, are large muscles that span most of the back. The lats have many functions in the body. They are primarily responsible for pulling the body upward (think pull-ups). Additionally, though, they assist with both bending over (or rather pulling it back up) as well as breathing; the lats help with breathing as they help to exert pressure on the trunk and push air out.

This image depicts a woman doing a lift that is beneficial to her core.
A woman doing a lift.

The Quadratus Lumborum

The quadratus lumborum is a sheet muscle in the lower back that has a few functions, and it is also important when it comes to core function. It helps principally with the lateral (sideways) movement of the trunk. However, it is also responsible for maintaining stability in the ribs while you breathe.

The Spinal Erectors

The erector spinae, or the spinal erector muscles, are very long muscles that run the length of the spine. The spinal erectors have a number of functions that are crucial to core function. These muscles are responsible for ensuring the stability of the spine, maintain proper body posture, as well as helping with the bending and rotation of the spine.

Main Functions of the Core

The core has two main functions: maintaining stability and balance and protecting vital internal organs. The muscles that make up your core all have one primary function in common: stability. This reveals stability as the core’s main function in the body. Additionally, the muscles of the core provide a sturdy, protective barrier around the body’s most important organs such as the heart and lungs. These organs would be vulnerable and likely injured if they were left unguarded, so the core also is necessary to keep these organs safe and secure.

Signs of Core Weakness

A woman performing a handstand which is a feat of fitness and core strength.
A woman performing a handstand.

A strong core is imperative for your overall wellbeing, and it can affect nearly every area of the body. Therefore, if you have a weak core, it can have far-reaching and unpleasant effects on your body. To begin, its main function is stability, and if it’s weak, then it doesn’t have that stability. With a weak core comes a lack of stability and balance which can increase your risk of falling and getting hurt.

As the old saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; this saying rings true here. All of the muscles in our body work together in a system to ensure proper body functions. If one muscle is weak, it can lead to an unnecessary amount of stress being put onto other muscles and joints. This is even more important when it comes to your core. It is built to maintain stability and, especially in the lower body, withstand the load of nearly your whole body. Weakness in these muscles can lead to overworking of muscles that are not equipped to carry the same load which can result in injury.

Improving Core Strength

There are many ways to improve core strength and this strengthening can be found in nearly all types of training. In resistance training, your core can be strengthened either through isolated training or through compound lifts (the majority of which have a significant effect on your core). Bodyweight training is very effective at increasing core strength as well. Although many people will find themselves doing hundreds of crunches, there are plenty of exercises that activate your core more comprehensively and are overall just better for you. While we’ve briefly focused on two forms of training, nearly every other form of training and exercise can improve core strength.

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