After posting a lot on social media over the last few months about core training exercises, I want to give you all a full explanation on the how’s and why’s of core training in order to get the best real-life results.
‘Anatomy-101’ of the core
We should probably begin with a quick guide to the anatomy of the core, which is split into four distinct parts.
• The Rectus Abdominals (abs) – these originate from the pubic crest and insert into the base of the sternum and ribs 5-7. These muscles flex the lumbar spine and, unfortunately, are the only muscle group here that people tend to concentrate on.
• The Internal Oblique’s – these originate from the iliac crest, inguinal ligament and the lumbodorsal fascia and insert into the linea alba and ribs 10-12. These muscles flex and rotate the torso to each side. They also work to oppose the diaphragm to assist in forced expiration (breathing out).
• The External Oblique’s – these originate from the 5th and 12th rib, inserting into the iliac crest, linea alba and pubic crest. As well as flexing and rotating the torso, these muscles also flex the torso laterally.
• The Transverse Abdominis – often referred to as the deep abdominal muscle. It originates from the iliac crest, the inguinal ligament and the costal cartilages of ribs 7-12. It inserts into the base of the sternum, the pubic crest and the line alba. Its primary functions are to protect the internal organs and help increase our abdominal pressure, which helps us lift more weight.
The benefits of a strong core
Now that we have the basics covered, it’s time to talk about why you should want a strong core and why it is so beneficial for all of us.
Posture- a huge amount of the people I meet on a daily basis suffer from an anterior tilted pelvis. The main cause of this is a weak anterior core (The rectus abdominis). In addition to strengthening the glutes and stretching the hip flexor, working on the core will help correct this common postural problem.
Back pain- this is another common problem that I encounter on a day-to-day basis. Back pain has been the leading cause for missed days at work for a number of years now (1). Having a strong anterior core is crucial to preventing this issue. A weak core means that other muscle groups have to work harder to stabilise the lumbar spine and pelvis. Due to this compensation, there is also an increased risk of injury from muscle strains too.
Athletic/sports performance- the final part of why a strong core is beneficial. For an athlete to perform at 100% and generate maximal amounts of force with either the upper or lower body, both the spine and pelvis must be stable. This is best achieved when the core and glutes work together harmoniously. Therefore when the core is the weakest link, the chain is broken and athletic performance will suffer due to being inefficient. For example, effective rotation from the torso should come from the pelvis and thoracic spine. A strong and stable core allows athletes to perform twisting movements powerfully, but safely.
Common mistakes and how to train properly
Now for the bit that you all came to read! For me, the most important mistake that people make is that they lose, or do not even develop, the mind-muscle connection. This can apply to any movement, but with the core it is probably the most crucial. The mind-muscle connection refers to the ability of a person to really feel the target muscles contract exactly when and how they want them to. By being much more in touch with our bodies it provides for quicker and longer-lasting results.
Secondly, and probably the most pitiful mistake, is neglecting core training. Many people are mistakenly lead to believe that only training the compound movements, or even a loaded variation, is enough to train the core well.
However, a very strong core is essential to maximising results and minimising the risk of injury while performing these compound movements. Therefore, further and more specific training of the core is just as important!
My final point on common training mistakes is that exercises which only train spinal flexion and ignore core stability have taken over, leaving people weaker than ever. Exercises such as sit-ups have become useless to both me and my clients, as we strive to create stability for the hips and lower spine.
So, how do we train the core properly?
Below are the three main core training categories that I use with examples of exercises.
Category 1: Anti spinal extension- my favourite exercises include hollow holds, banded dead bugs, RKC planks and ab-wheel rollouts.
Category 2: Anti spinal lateral flexion- exercises include variations of the farmers carry, suitcase deadlifts and single arm offset loaded split squats.
Category 3: Anti spinal rotation- some of my favourites include standing/kneeling pallof presses, anti-rotational hollow holds and landmine barbell rotations.
All of the above exercises can easily be looked up. However, many of them are demonstrated in videos which can be found on my Instagram.
So, there you have it! Core anatomy, training mistakes and my personal exercise recommendations to bulletproof your core ready for daily life and sport performance of the every day person as well as a top level athlete.