Pick up any fitness magazine, and you’ll see an article about the importance of working your core. The core muscles consist of five main muscle groups that wrap around the abdomen and back and help to stabilize your pelvis and hold in your guts. Not only do the core muscles give the mid-section a more pleasing appearance, strong core muscles make it easier to do sports and every day activities that require strength and balance.
Most people make a critical mistake when they work their core muscles. They only focus in on the abdominal muscle group, while ignoring the rest of the core muscles that make up the torso. The core muscles consist not only of the muscles that make up the abdominal wall, but also the oblique muscles, the pelvic muscles and the muscles that support the back and spine.
When most people train their core, they isolate their abdominals by doing lots of crunches, while ignoring the other critical core muscles. This creates an imbalance that not only fails to maximize core strength but also creates muscle instability. This type of imbalance can lead to lower back pain and sport-related injuries.
The core muscles work as a group and to get maximal benefits, you have to train all of these critical muscles. This means doing exercises that target the muscles of the abdomen, the oblique muscles in the sides, the lower back, hips and the upper back. This will not only give you a firmer belly, but it’ll improve your posture at the same time. If you play sports, it’ll also decrease the risk of injuries. There are lots of good reasons to focus in on the muscles that make up the core.
The best way to work the core muscles is to take a more balanced approach to an abdominal workout. Instead of just doing crunches, throw in some squats, planks, side planks, hanging knee raises and bicycle crunches. Take a Pilates or yoga class twice a week to further zero in on the core muscles. Too much focus on the abdominal muscles to the exclusion of other muscles of the core will only create an imbalanced, “lopsided” core – and you won’t get the six-pack abs you’re dreaming of.
If your abdominal muscles aren’t as firm and toned as you’d like, turn some of your attention to the other muscles that make up the core. If you’re unsure what exercises to do, get a DVD that’s devoted to core training – or a Pilates tape. There’s no need to get a personal trainer or join a gym to work your core. You can do it at home without special equipment other than an exercise mat. Make balanced core training a part of your exercise routine – and reap the benefits of a beautiful core.
Fitness Prescription. February 2011, page 18.