In the gym and in my PT practice, I hear the term “core” used a lot. “Dude, I have such a weak core,” or “my abs are so sore from that core work I did yesterday.” But often, no one has any idea what their “core” actually is. When I do core training, or when I’m treating musculoskeletal conditions, I like to differentiate the core into two categories – stabilizers and movers.
These are the important tonic muscles that help to stabilize the spine. They are made up of slow twitch muscle fibers which enable them to maintain contraction for longer periods of time without fatigue. While some may argue differently (some specialists include the vocal cords), I believe the stabilizing core is made up of four key muscle groups:
These stabilizers are key for maintaining proper posture and for avoiding injury such as disc herniations. Since such injuries are usually caused by a combination of rotation, side-bend, and/or flexion or extension, the stabilizing core can play a big role in restricting those motions for injury prevention. Automatic engagement of these muscle groups should occur when performing activities such as lifting, carrying, or even opening a door. When it doesn’t, it is usually due to mechanical restrictions at the lumbosacral spine or pelvis, or over-activity of other muscles.
Generally, these muscles are responsible for movement such as trunk flexion or side-bend. These muscles are integral for movements like sit-ups, toes to bar, and super-mans. Many of them are also tonic muscles, which sometimes cause them to get tight and overactive.
So if there are so many core muscles, how do we do “core training?” The first question we need to answer is “Do we want to Stabilize or Move?” If the answer is Stabilize, exercises like core brace progressions, planks and even kegels are the answer. Luckily, many of the movements we already do in CrossFit help to strengthen our Movers. If you feel like you have a weak core, accessorizing with stability work may help you better achieve your core strength goals.
Be on the look-out for future posts about specific exercises and the postural implications of core strength!