The health and fitness industry is full of buzzwords. Terms like “cardio”, “fat burning zone”, “muscle tone” and “net carbs” all proliferate the consumers’ knowledge base when it comes to understanding what they need to do for their fitness. The truth is that most of them are taken way out of context or even worse, don’t mean a damn thing – but they sure sound like you know what you’re talking about. Enter probably the biggest buzz word of all and you will quickly see how buzz words dilute real knowledge – the core.
People talk about their “core” and it’s assumed they are talking about their abs. Partially true. Some will say they understand the “core” to be more than just their abs and it involves the lower back as well. Also partially true. The fact of the matter is, there is not one – nadda – anatomy text book where you will find the term or description of the word “core”. Is it just an imaginary muscle or concept? Or is it just a really cool way to describe the middle of something, such as in an apple or the center of the Earth? It’s not a new concept as the term “core” was first coined in 1982 by Bob Gajda (1966 Mr. America) & Richard Dominquez M.D. in their book Total Body Training. In their book, Gajda and Dominquez stated, “The foundation of Total Body Training is the core, which compromises the muscles in the center of the body. These muscles stabilize the body while in upright, antigravity position or while using the arms and legs to throw or kick. These muscles maintain the body’s structure during vigorous exercises such as running, jumping, shoveling and lifting weights. These muscles also control the head, neck, ribs, spine and pelvis”
A Better Understanding
Contrary to popular misconception, the “core” is not just your abs and lower back; it’s all of your torso muscles (shoulders, glutes, abs, mid-back, lats, etc.) minus your arms and legs. So if you’re engaging in an exercise program that incorporates utilization of the upper body musculature in a closed kinetic chain fashion (both feet in contact with floor), congratulations – you’re core training. Free weight training, not just barbells and dumbbells but in any mode that allows for an endless plane of motion is more efficient at stimulating and strengthening the core than an exercise in which there is little to no support from a bench or seat. This is not to undermine the benefit of strength machines or classic exercises such as a bench press, but it should bring to light what is lost or what could be greatly accomplished by training the “core” properly. And sit-ups, crunches, and a plethora of abdominal exercises are not the answer.
To Flex Or Not To Flex
The fitness industry has made a belief, almost religion, in what it shares as the best way to achieve ripped, rock hard abs. Gyms are filled with ab machines, devices, and classes all touting the benefits of a strong “core” and a coveted six pack. And at any given moment those machines and/or classes are occupied by some who especially have no business torqueing their spines improperly. Understand that the primary function of the abdominal musculature is stabilization – providing support to the pelvis and lumbar spine; second is spinal flexion; third is rotation. All three movements are integrated, meaning that they are not solely independent of one another. To delve deeper, a strong, stable, and efficient “core” does not grow out of killing it with abdominal exercises only. It involves an involvement of many muscles, working together to achieve optimum movement and function – lack of which is a huge contributor to injury and immobilization in so many.
Focus on building your “core” as a strong foundation of stability and mobility – not jjst intense abdominal or low back work. Abdominals blanketed by body fat is another discussion and a six pack will not…WILL NOT magically just appear even with all the gut wrenching (no pun intended) abdominal specific exercises you can squeeze out. After all, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.