Core, core, core.

What is the “core?”

This term gets thrown around a lot, and I doubt many know exactly what is meant when we say “core.”

In simplest terms, your core is basically everything besides your arms and legs. It includes all muscles, ligaments, bones, fascia and connective tissues of your body within that region found from your neck down to your hips and lower pelvic floor region. Your core is also synonymous with the term “trunk,” which means the same area of your body.

But, there’s more to the core!

Why the core is so important and such a point of emphasis in almost every training program is because that is where force is transferred, absorbed, and produced in order for upper and lower body strength and power to occur, including your extremities (arms and legs).

The core is also critical for proper posture and vital for low back protection, stability, and balance, in addition to your hips and pelvic regions. Thus, the core is also referred to as the lumbo-pelvic-complex that includes all muscles associated with those regions, primarily divided into the outer and inner units.

The outer unit (pictured above) consists of the rectus abdominis (think 6-pack abs), external obliques, erector spinae, hip flexors, latissimus dorsi, and gluteus maximus. These are the  big muscles that are primarily responsible for force reduction and production during dynamic movements, like the squat, deadlift, lunge, sit-up, etc. They also play a role in stabilization of the core, or trunk, but that job is primarily for the inner core.

The inner core unit (pictured above) consists of the transverse abdominis (below your 6-pack), multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and thoracolumbar fascia. These muscles are probably unfamiliar to the average lifter or gym-goer, but they are vital for stabilization and protection of your body when performing dynamic movements, especially your lower back (lumbar spine). Without it it’s snap city and we don’t want that!

To avoid this you need to activate your inner and outer core. Activation means using or turning-on your core muscles, so they work and do their job efficiently and correctly. This is done by creating what’s called “intra-abdominal pressure” that allows for the contraction of your inner core muscles, like the transverse abdominis. This is done by either using one of two methods: abdominal bracing or the drawing-in maneuver.

The abdominal bracing method is primarily used to engage your outer core by contracting your outer core muscles like your abs, glutes, and obliques. This provides your trunk with stiffness that, in-turn, provide protection and stability for your entire lumbo-pelvic region, including your low back.

The second method, and, perhaps, most important important method, is the drawing-in maneuver. This method focuses on your inner core, which is primarily responsible for core stability and protection of your low back. This is done by sucking in your navel to your spine (take a deep breath and contract), similar to how you would suck in your gut if you were putting on a tight pair of jeans. This contracts the inner core, especially the transverse abdominis, which acts as a corset for your mid-section that supports your lower back. This creates high amounts of intra-abdominal pressure to brace your core that results in stiffness, or stability, of the lumbo-pelvic region.

Together, both the inner and outer unit of the core provide you with the ability and function of having a stable trunk that allows you to perform dynamic (moving) and static (not moving) movements safely and optimally.

In order for this to happen, you must first focus on the inner core, which provides stability, and in-turn increases the maximal core strength that you can have. Both the inner and outer core are obviously closely connected, and work together in synergy to produce core stability and strength.

The less core stability you have the less core strength you will have too.

Thus, it’s first important to focus on activating the core first through the drawing-in maneuver and get familiar with that activation pattern first. This will be your primary method of stability for most exercises, especially with demanding exercises like the squat, deadlift, overhead press and benchpress.

Because core activation is ambiguous to some you have to get used to that activation pattern. Just like if you flex your arm, your bicep contracts, the same goes for activating the core using the drawing-in or abdominal bracing maneuvers. You’ll notice that your inner abdominal and adjacent muscles will contract providing you with increased stability. As you do it over and over again, it will become second nature and you’ll notice how much stronger you’ll be doing any exercise you perform.

It takes practice, but you will progress and really have a strong body capable of great things once you are able to activate your core.

Some great exercises to increase core activation and strength for beginning and advanced lifters alike are the following:

  • Planks
  • Bird-dogs
  • Dead-bugs
  • Cable rotation/anti-rotation
  • Tummy Vacuums
  • Leg raises
  • Flutter kicks
  • Medicine ball movements

Once you can perform these exercises with effectiveness and ease you can move on to more advanced and demanding movements, like the deadlift, squat, overhead press, advanced kettlebell work, and plyometrics, to further increase core and overall body strength and advance yourself in those exercises.

With that, this completes our 101 session on the core and you might even get as strong as Hafthor Bjornsson!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What remaining questions do you have with the core that you want answered? Comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it!

As always, thanks for stopping by. Until next time, be strong and be you.

(Photo credits:

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One thought on “The Core 101: What exactly is it and how to use it.

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