What is core training?
No really — what the heck does that mean? The term core has been tossed around for years in the context of strength training, so much so that is has lost its become a nonspecific catchword. Thanks to the proliferation of under-researched commercial fitness programs, it has become nearly synonymous with abdominal muscles that can be carved into a six pack. This is like using the term “literally” as a synonym for “figuratively”, and it sells short the power and importance of the core. It’s not just unhelpful, it creates confusion and offers zero accuracy. Let’s take a moment to really establish a core understanding of what it is and why it deserves your attention.
When we talk about using our core during Elevate classes, we’re referring to a group of muscles responsible for stabilizing and protecting the spine, providing structural support and inhibiting motion that could cause injury, such as over-extension or over-rotation. These core muscles can be thought of as inner core and outer core. Your inner core muscles include your diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidi, deep cervical flexors, and transverse abdominus. These are the first to engage when you breathe or move, and are located deep within the abdomen right next to the spine.
Your outer core muscles also serve to stabilize and protect the spine, and are more subject to conscious movement. They include the anterior muscles (abdominals), the latissimus dorsi, spinal erectors, glute complex, quadratus lumborum (QL), and hip flexors. The outer core muscles are visible and therefore receive more attention in a lot of workouts, but overlook your inner core at your own risk.
Access to strengthening your core is found through perfecting your form. (Let’s think of perfection as a process, not a destination — you can always perfect, but cannot achieve perfection.) The core is trained and strengthened by bearing weight and allowing the core to do it’s job. As such, every movement is potentially a core exercise, even breathing. You can transform core activation into exercise by either increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting or by squeezing and putting additional focus on the core muscles with little or no extra weight. You can practice this in yoga, dance, any weightlifting form, pull-ups, planks — literally any physical movement. If you ever find yourself bored with an exercise routine, place your attention on your core and you’ll find that things get really interesting really quickly.
Whenever you breathe or move, your core automatically engages to protect your spine. By strengthening these muscles, you create powerful stability and strength in your body, which allows for more efficient and effective workouts for the rest of your body. There’s a strong case to be made about the psycho-somatic benefits of a strong core in terms of self-esteem and feeling capable. The stronger your core, the more safely and effectively you can move in any direction. A strong core is the foundation of a strong, stable, balanced body.