What Is The Core?
Many people think that the core is just a fancy term for abs. In reality, the core is much more than just the abs.
First of all, you might be surprised to know that there is no unanimous agreement of what muscles comprise the core. Opinions range from everything except the limbs to just the deep muscles of the lower trunk.
Core muscles are the intimate muscles that act directly on the spine and pelvis. The four generally "accepted" core muscles are the diaphragm, lumbar multifidus, transverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles. This could be extended to the erectors of the spine & the iliopsoas, internal oblique, lower part of the lats, & the gluteus maximus.
Functions of the Core
Rather than being a well-defined muscle group, the core is a compound system of muscles that act in synergy for two specific and essential purposes: to stabilize the spine & transfer force.
The core acts as a stabilizer and is essential because the spine alone can't keep straight & stiff and depends on a set of ligaments & muscles for support and stability. In many real-life activities, the core muscles' function is to stiffen and prevent motion in the deeper trunk, protecting the spine and internal organs. The core muscles protect the spine from excessive stress and injury during static and dynamic movements. This is the main reason why core strength is of fundamental importance not only in sports, where impact, collision, and explosive movement are frequent, but also in everyday activities like lifting boxes, moving furniture, or carrying a backpack. The function of the core could be compared to a turtle's shell. It keeps what is inside safe.
The other function of the core muscles is to transfer force to the limbs. Simply put, the core acts as a bridge or connection between the lower and the upper limbs. Because of its force transmission action, some people consider the core as a powerhouse for the body. Although the limbs create motion, they don't generate much power by themselves. Instead, power generated at the hips and lower trunk is transmitted efficiently by the core muscles to the upper or lower limbs.
Let's dig further with an example: When you throw a punch, you engage your arm and shoulder, but you won't produce much force because you lack a ground base of support for the motion. The muscle involved in generating the force is small compared to the rest of the body and cannot generate much force.
Now watch this awesome knockout punch....
If you watch closely, the motion of the punch originates with the rotation of the hips. This motion is assisted and supported by the legs and feet that are firmly planted on the ground. The force generated by this motion is transferred to the shoulder and the arm through the core muscles.
You will now realize how much more power is generated in the punch because now there are more muscles involved and how the core transfers the force from the lower body to the upper.
The same goes for kicks and to virtually any action in sport, from the rugby pass to the golf swing to the gymnastics back handspring, to the tennis serve and of course to every day-to-day activity.
How To Strengthen Your Core?
Now that you have understood the importance of the core muscles & their role, it's time to know how you can strengthen your core muscles to perform your best in any physical sport & also while training.
The misinformation about the core has led many people to think that core strengthening means doing only ab workouts. Although doing some of the ab workouts does help, it takes way much more than that to strengthen & stabilize your core muscles. It includes training and strengthening your hips, your back & also performing core stabilizing exercises.
One of the most popular core strengthening exercises you can start with is doing Planks. You can begin holding a plank position for a minimal time and then gradually increase the time. Treat your core muscles the same as other muscles and commit to progressive overload with time.
The next exercise you can try is doing a Wall Sit. You need to sit against a wall as if you are sitting on a virtual chair. It helps to strengthen & stabilize your core to a great deal. You can put plates on your thighs if you want to take this to the next level.
The next best exercise would be Hip Thrust. You need to lie on your back & bend your knees to roughly 90 degrees while pressing your feet firmly into the floor. After that, you need to squeeze your gluteal muscles to lift your hips off the floor & getting your knees, hips, and shoulders into a straight line. This exercise works a great deal for your core, glutes & hams. Again, to progressive overload, you can add weights on a barbell while performing this exercise.
Some other exercises that you can perform to strengthen your core muscles further are - Hanging Leg Raises, Hollow Sit, Farmers Walk & so on.
Core strength training is essential for your overall fitness. Having a stable core helps to prevent injuries & also enhances athletic performance. Therefore, having a well-rounded fitness regimen that includes core training is the best way to reach your fitness & athletic goals.