Updated: Jan 25, 2022
A few questions always come up when talking about training "the core."
Should you do direct core work? Don’t the abs get worked enough with squats and deadlifts? What even is “the core”? Will doing more core work prevent me from getting back pain?
When most people think of "the core" they are referring to the abdominal muscles; namely the rectus abdominis (shown here) aka the 6-pack. This is one of many muscles responsible for a strong mid-section. The rectus abdominis produces that sit-up motion; bringing the rib cage towards the pelvis.
Of course - there's a little more to our mid-section musculature than that. A few other abdominal muscles are the obliques (external and internal) that are on our flanks and both produce and resist rotation. The transversus abdominis is the “internal weight belt” that forms a full ring around the mid-section and functions to compress around us in a circular motion.
The spinal erectors in our low back (left) together produce lumbar extension but on their own produce lateral flexion, and resist it the other way. Sometimes forgotten... the quadratus lumborum (right). This muscle runs from ribs to pelvis producing lateral flexion and lumbopelvic extension.
COMPLETE CORE DEVELOPMENT
Do the abs/erectors get trained with compound lifts like squats and deadlifts? Yes, of course. They are working isometrically to resist movement. This will develop them to a pretty solid degree.
But - would you consider training any other muscle ONLY isometrically? Would we train biceps ONLY with 90-degree bicep curl holds? Sounds lame. Probably not. Ideally, we train muscles through a full range of motion both concentrically and eccentrically, too.
So - how do we structure core training?
Instead of trying to isolate individual muscles, I like a 360-degree approach arranged by planes of movement to make sure we catch all of these muscles both isometrically to resist movement and dynamically to produce it. Here are 1-2 exercises to train in each plane.
SAGITTAL PLANE DYNAMIC
-Hanging Leg Raises for the anterior muscles
-Back Extensions for the erectors
SAGITTAL PLANE ISOMETRIC
FRONTAL PLANE DYNAMIC
-DB Side Bends
-Copenhagen Plank Lifts (adductor training bonus)
FRONTAL PLANE ISOMETRIC
TRANSVERSE PLANE DYNAMIC
-All kinds of chops
TRANSVERSE PLANE ISOMETRIC
If you’re already training compound lifts like squats and deadlifts, you’re already getting in some core work so there’s no need to go nuts programming these in.
Choose 1-2 exercises per category and perform 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps 1-2x per week. That will cover it. These exercises are not overly fatiguing so there should be no need to worry about overreaching by adding these to your program.
NOTES ON BACK PAIN
While no exercise can entirely prevent injury or pain; strength training is one of the ONLY interventions that has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of injury.
By specifically targeting the muscles around the midsection with varying stimuli you can increase your resiliency to injury by preparing to move against load and produce force in a wide variety of ways.
Thank you for reading!
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