Unveiling the Benefits of a Strong Core: More Than Just Abs
7 Min Read
A strong core has benefits far beyond superficial and inaccurate metrics like visible abdominal muscles. A functional core facilitates movement throughout your day, from ease of getting out of bed in the morning to sports performance, to a sense of being connected to your body.
Table of Contents
What is the core?
Most people think of the core as the abs that are visible on people with very low body fat–the “six pack” muscles. But those are just one of the several groups of muscles that make up the core:
INSERT ILLUSTRATION OF CORE MUSCLES
The core is made up of the muscles that wrap around the abdomen, including the rectus abdominis (the “six pack”), lower back muscles, the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominal muscles, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor muscles. Learning to coordinate these different muscle groups to work reflexively with the breath and the need for the body to handle various loads is the essence of strengthening the core.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s a huge difference between core strength and having toned abs. Core strength is measured by the body’s ability to perform the tasks you wish to perform, when you want to perform them. For example, you need to pick up a 40-lb. bag of cat litter and load it into your car. If your arms are strong, that helps, but to make the movement relatively smooth and steady, with little pain, you’re going to need the support of your core to help you lift, carry and shift that weight. And visible abs are not an indicator of whether your core strength is up to the task. Visible abdominal muscles are a function of genetics, where fat is distributed on your body, and low body fat.
Benefits of a Strong Core
There are a wide range of benefits to having a strong core.
Physical Health Benefits:
A strong, functional core aids in postural stability and good alignment. Instead of thinking of posture as a single, static position, it might be easier to think of good posture and good alignment as having more than one option for your body when it is seated or standing or moving. Good alignment is not about keeping your back straight, it’s about having a stable, strong base from which to move.
Once you’re working from a stable base, a strong core helps you move through life with better balance and stability: try walking on a balance beam without using your core and see how you do. The core provides much-needed resistance to gravity by helping your whole body move with better coordination.
With better balance and a strong base in the core, you’re far less likely to injure yourself in your daily life–think back to that cat litter example. Without a strong core, you might strain or tweak your back, or drop the litter and have to start all over again.
A strong core may help reduce chronic low back pain. Core strength comes in part from correcting compensation patterns that lead to discomfort long-term, and a good core strengthening program will train the whole body, not just specific muscle groups.
The impact of core strength on everyday activities cannot be overstated. Your core is responsible for stabilizing your trunk and helps move your body through all planes of motion. Anything that involves reaching, twisting, bending, lifting, or otherwise supporting your body weight in some way involves your core. Core training is much more than planks and sit-ups: it’s a whole-body process.
A strong core is important to all age groups: think about how hard it is to get out of bed without being able to use your core muscles (anyone who has ever had abdominal surgery knows how this feels). And when your core can’t be recruited to stabilize you, even walking around your house can be difficult, or even dangerous, as you get older. Young children benefit from a strong core by being better able to run, jump, and play, and having a strong base of support as they try different activities and sports. People who are in a caregiving stage of life need a strong and functional core to help them move not just their own bodies but also the bodies of those they care for.
Benefits of a strong core in sports and exercise:
The core is necessary to perform any movement away from the body’s center of gravity: stepping forward, leaning to the side, reaching an arm up in front of you, and more. For people engaging in sports or other forms of exercise, core strength improves performance and reduces injury.
Since strengthening the core involves both core-specific and whole-body exercises, a strong core has benefits beyond the specific requirements of any given sport. A strong, reflexive core allows for more fluid movement, thus freeing up an athlete’s focus for the specific tasks of the sport/exercise. Think about how a sport like golf is all about precision and alignment of the swing, but if there’s no stability from the core, your aim will be off, your swing won’t have the right amount of follow-through, etc. It’s easy to think about how, say, Simone Biles uses her core in gymnastics. But you need it for your Zumba class and your water aerobics, too.
Core strength training can take many different forms: once you’ve learned a few basic exercises that help reinforce effective sore engagement patterns, you can build on them and increase their load over time. Your core training doesn’t need to look like 60 minutes of crunches and planks: assuming a base level of core strength and no need to rehab your abdominal muscles, any strength training program can easily incorporate a few core-strengthening moves. Cat and cow, a few planks, and exercises like deadlifts and side lunges all work to strengthen your core, with a whole-body approach.
Mental and Emotional Benefits:
Being able to do what you want with your body is a key factor in mental health. Of course, we all have different limits and abilities: not everyone can or should be Simone Biles. Having a strong core isn’t going to make your migraines go away. But feeling at home in your body, and knowing that your body mostly works as well as it can, most of the time, makes life more joyful. Regular exercise has well-documented mental and emotional health benefits, and having a functional core makes regular exercise more readily accessible.
Core Strength and Overall Body Health
Since your core is so essential to overall physical ability, strengthening your core makes it easier to partake in the kinds of activities that are health-promoting, like walking, gardening, engaging in sports, social dancing, or whatever else you might want to do. Even your core function and how you breathe are intertwined. The process of connecting to your core can take you on a journey of deeper connection to your body, and that connection can serve you throughout your whole life.
The benefits of good core strength are multifaceted:
- Better coordination and balance
- Ease of movement
- Reduced risk of injury
- Less lower back pain
- Overall increase in physical health
- Increase in mental & emotional health
What a “strong core” looks like varies from person to person. It’s entirely possible to have a body with high body fat but a strong core–what determines the strength of your core is how you use it, not what it looks like. As you begin your core strength journey, look less toward aesthetics and focus on the many ways your life will improve when you’re able to move through life with more ease and joy.
1. What muscles make up the core beyond the visible “six-pack” muscles?
The core consists of various muscle groups, including the rectus abdominis, lower back muscles, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominal muscles, diaphragm, and pelvic floor muscles. Understanding how these muscles work together is crucial for strengthening the core effectively.
2. How does core strength differ from having toned abs?
Core strength is about the body’s ability to perform daily tasks efficiently and without pain. It goes beyond aesthetics, and visible abs don’t necessarily indicate a strong core. There is a distinction between having toned muscles and functional core strength.
3. What are the physical health benefits of a strong core?
A strong, functional core contributes to postural stability, good alignment, and better balance. It can help prevent injuries, reduce chronic low back pain, and enhance overall physical health and well-being.
4. How does core strength impact everyday activities and functional benefits?
Core strength plays a crucial role in stabilizing the trunk and facilitating movement in various planes. It is essential for activities like reaching, twisting, bending, and lifting.
5. What role does core strength play in sports and exercise?
Core strength is vital for performing movements away from the body’s center of gravity, making it crucial in sports and exercise. A strong core enhances performance, reduces the risk of injuries, and allows for more fluent and precise movements in various physical activities.
6. What are the mental and emotional benefits of having a strong core?
While core strength is primarily associated with physical health, it also has mental and emotional benefits. Learn how feeling at home in your body, coupled with regular exercise, contributes to improved mental well-being.