Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abs are Sexy, the Core is Sexier

So in my last post I feel I interchanged the words "core" and "abdominals" a little too freely.  Let's take a look at the differences, because it's an important concept.

These are abs:


More specifically, these are the abdominal muscles:


Alternatively, this is (some of) the core:

Mmm look at that multifidus.

The abdominal muscles are also part of the core, which is comprised of 29 muscles in total.  The core is also often referred to as the "lumbo-pelvic-hip complex."  This pretty much just means the lumbar area of the spine, the pelvis and hips are included in the core, along with the thoracic and cervical spine.  If you'd like to get real specific, here is a list of some of those muscles to get an idea:

- Levator Ani (Pelvic Floor)
- Coccygeus (Pelvic Floor)
- Transverse Abdominis
- Internal Obliques
- External Obliques
- Rectus Abdominis
- Multifidus
- Erector Spinae
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Trapezius 
- Gluteus Maximus
- Quadratus Lumborum 

So, there is a lot more to the core than most people probably think.

The core serves a number of purposes.  Some important ones for many today is posture and spinal stabilization.  A lot of lower back pain can be attributed to a weak core.  Other functions (that are just as important but seldom thought of) include: efficiently generate and absorb force and correct distribution of weight.  The core is essentially your foundation, and a strong foundation is needed for any structure.

The importance of core training is one reason why I dislike the use of machines in strength training.  Let's take a look at the difference between a row machine and a bent-over row with a barbell:

Here you are in a seated position, with no core activation required to keep us steady and stable.  The machine does that for us.  The weights are on a track and you don't have to guide or control the movement.

Let's look at the difference here.  In order for the man to keep his spine straight (like we talked about with the planks!) the core has to be activated and strong enough to maintain stability.  As well, the weights are not a fixed track, so in order to do the movement correctly there must be some amount of control and stability in the latissimus during a rep.  Try doing these two exercises and see if you can feel the difference in core activation and difficulty!  Which one is more strenuous?  Which one will get you more reward for your time?

This can be applied to a number of machine vs. free weight exercises.  Dumbbell Overhead Press vs Overhead Press Machine:

Laid back in a comfortable seated position.

Must keep core stable to prevent excessive curving of the lower back.


So if you do a routine with free weights instead of machines, you can be working on core stabilization the whole time without doing a specific core exercise.  Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't include core work in a daily routine.  

Once again, thanks for reading!