Our core, which we can generally define as anything that is not a limb, is our foundation and more functionally important than we often give it credit for. While I doubt there is a person on this planet who doesn't want their core to look chiseled and pristine, we often don't put as much value on how important that type of "muscle tone" is in terms of function. The bottom line, is that while a six pack looks great, what it and other accompanying core muscles can do for us (even under layers of fat), is essential to our overall health for three major reasons: prevention or alleviation of back pain, strength and mobility at the gym and in life, and enhancement in athletic performance.
Back Pain No More
The Bottom Line
If you take one thing away from this article, please let it be this: the cost of back pain is too high to not put time in the gym focusing on developing your core. Is it worth it to be laid up in bed paying the price of time off from your job and of physical pain because of a back injury OR to pay the price of one hour of sweat and physically demanding work? Sadly, that very scenario is not far fetched either. According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and will affect 80% of the American population at some point in their lives. It is simply a choice. A choice to take your quality of life, health, and ultimately, your happiness, into your own hands.
Move like an Athlete
One attribute a good athlete must possess, is coordination and control of their body. When a baseball or softball outfielder throws a run in, a sprinter explodes off the blocks, a soccer player kicks a goal, a basketball player shoots a 3, (and the list goes on), the core is responsible for absorbing the force that is transmitted by the athlete's limbs. If their core is weak, the velocity of the movement is decreased and the likelihood of injury goes up.
This same principle holds true for every day athletes as well. When getting your workout of the day in, if your core is weak your lifts and movements will be weak (think deadlifts, squats, push ups, pull ups, dips, etc.) and your chance of injury goes up. The reason there are mirrors in the gym? So you can watch your form and make sure you're doing the movement correctly. The reason we have an intricate network of core musculature? So you can feel and ground your form. Use both sight and feel to keep your technique on point for your next workout.
Be a Boss in the gym
Adding on to the last point, your core should constantly be ON with any movement in the gym. Imagine if I were to come up in punch you in the stomach before you were to lift something, you would brace for the impact right? Well, that same "bracing" effect should be recruited at all times when you are training. This is especially true when lifting heavier weights (anything less than 12 reps) so that you can maintain good technique from the start of the lift to the finish. Furthermore, if your core isn't strong, you should not be attempting anything heavy for your own safety and longevity. Don't be one of those CrossFit horror stories that tries to do too much too soon. Build your core first, everything else second.
To answer the poll question, our superficial abs (six pack) that we see is our Rectus Abdominis muscle, which looks like eight separate muscles, but is in fact one unit linked by fascia. Thus, you cannot just target the bottom two "abs" in the Rectus Abdominis, it all works together. Also, we often don't see those "lower abs" because our subcutaneous fat gathers at the bottom first, and is better trimmed off through dietary measures. Stay tuned for Part II of this blog, which will dive deeper into what you can do in the kitchen to help you on your ab mission.
Advanced Core Routine
There are multiple resources on this site to help you accomplish building your foundation, specifically check out the Core section under "WOD". Below is a video and advanced core routine for when you are ready to step up your game a tad! Also, feel free to ask me questions (serious inquiries only please) on how to optimize your health goals and journey, by emailing me below:
For those of you who are confident that you already "got it" and I'm preaching to the choir, try out these four core (or the Core 4 as we'll call it!) Swiss Ball exercises. They are a massive challenge and recruit not just your prime movers, but every single stabilizer in your core as well.
(n.d.). Retrieved January 03, 2018, from https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics
Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign: Human Kinetics.