If you are of “a certain age”, you will remember the mandatory PE classes in school. My classes were always taught by the grumpiest individual they could find that year. He or She always fancied themselves, not only as fitness expert, but it appeared that they did not need to follow any exercise or nutrition plan of their own. I never saw one of them do any of the activities they forced upon us, and I saw the high school track coach at McDonald’s, having lunch off campus, on more than a few occasions!
I swear they were only happy if the students were miserable. A favorite torture moment often came in the form of sit ups, now referred to as “crunches”. Among all moans and groans, one would hear the teacher say, “don’t you all want to have six pack abs?”
Back in the day, it was believed that this one motion would lead to a defined muscle set, make you look instantly healthy and increase your odds of finding a gorgeous mate.
That is a lot to ask of this simple movement, but everyone believed it was true.
Fast forward a few decades. You are in a yoga class, or pilates, kickboxing or just about any other fitness workout, and the instructor yells out, “time to work on our core!”
What is the difference between now and then? When did your ab workout become a core workout, and is there really a difference? Yes!
Abdominal muscles ≠ Core muscles. The core is made up of 9 different muscle sets!
Depending on which medical text you consult, the list varies a bit. But all sources seem to agree to include: Pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal obliques, external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis), longissimus thoracis and the diaphragm.
It is a big ask for the humble sit up to train all theses muscles! Most of us just want a flat tummy to show off at the beach, or to loose a few pounds around the midsection because we know that abdominal fat is unhealthy. But the core region is much more than just aesthetics.
The center of the core stability is responsible for our overall endurance, strength and flexibility. It also contributes greatly to motor control and function. In short, these muscles combine to make our daily activities easier.
This is not just for athletes looking for a competitive edge. These muscles are recruited at the grocery store, as you walk around without falling over, and when you bend, twist and lift the bags from your trunk and carry them into the house. When you pick up your toddler and hold him or her on your hip, every one of these muscles is engadged. You get my point!
What we have learned, all these years later as exercise science has evolved this understanding, is that strength training can not be done with a singular movement.
How many times do you need to stop, drop and perform a crunch in your daily routine? Probably never! Strengthening the muscles of the core is a dynamic process. Anytime your balance is challenged the smaller muscles, such as the multifidus are firing. You may not feel that work being performed, but those smaller muscles are working to stabilize your entire body.
Have you ever held a plank? You are in a stationary position, but that takes work!
In fact planks are the new crunches! The side plank challenges these muscles from a different angle, causing them to strengthen in the process. And this is before you add in any extra movements such as extending your arm, or lifting the top leg. Those modifications challenge even more muscle fibers than are listed in this, blurry graphic! 😔 Sorry for that!
Planks are not the only way to strengthen your core. For those who are already comfortable with the chart below, adding a twist or some movement to the static pose will present a greater challenge.
Any movement that challenges your balance will recruit and strengthen your core, providing huge benefits particularly as we age.
Consider doing a few moderate core strengthening movements, if your physical fitness allow for it. Your future self will thank you for it! 💕 😊