Core Training

by Sheila Kalas, master trainer and owner of Fitness Plus

Sheila Kalas, master trainer and owner of Fitness Plus in Lexington, Kentucky

Do you know what or where your core is? Do you have any idea why it is important? I’ll give you two different answers: the generalized, simple one and the scientific, detailed one.

The simple, layman’s definition of the core that I like to use is, “The core is the group of muscles from your chest to your knees.” It’s clear, simple and correct, but does not give the detail that many of you might be looking for.

The detailed, scientific, anatomical description of the core is:

• Multifidus – Deep spinal muscles that run segmentally from the neck (C2) to the sacrum. They produce extension and, to a lesser degree, rotation and lateral flexion forces that provide stability to joints at individual levels of the spine.

• Interspinales, Intertransversarii, Rotatores – Deep structures that attach directly to the spinal column. These are very important for rotatory motion and lateral stability.

• External Obliques – Abdominal muscles that attach at the lower ribs, pelvis and abdominal fascia.

• Internal Obliques – Abdominal muscles that attach at the lower ribs, rectus sheath, pelvis and thoracolumbar fascia.

• Transversus Abdominis – Abdominal muscles that attach at the lower ribs, pelvis and thoracolumbar fascia, and rectus sheath. These abdominal muscles work together to transmit a compressive force and act to increase intra-abdominal pressure that stabilizes the lumbar spine. They also work individually to perform trunk rotation, while the internal and external obliques on the same side can work synergistically to laterally flex the spine.

• Rectus Abdominis – Abdominal muscle that attaches at the fifth through seventh ribs, the lower sternum, and the front of the pubic bone. This muscle flexes the spine, compresses the internal organs of the abdomen, and transmits forces laterally from the obliques. It is a common fallacy that the upper and lower rectus are isolated differently. Training the rectus can be done with one exercise.

• Erector Spinae – Help to counterbalance all the forces involved in spinal flexion. They begin as the sacrospinalis tendon that attaches at the sacrum and ilium. This tendon then gives rise to different muscles that run up the spine and obliquely to attach at lateral parts of the vertebrae and the ribs. In the cervical region, these muscles attach at the base of the skull.

• Quadratus Lumborum – Attaches at the twelfth rib and the upper four lumbar vertebrae and the pelvis. It stabilizes the lumbar spine in all planes of motion, stabilizes the twelfth rib and the attachment of the diaphragm during respiration, and laterally flexes the trunk.

• Latissimus Dorsi – This is the largest spinal stabilizer. It attaches via the thoracolumbar fascia to the lumbar vertebrae, sacrum and pelvis, and runs upward to the humerus. It assists in lumbar extension and stabilization and also performs pulling motions through the arms.

• Thoracolumbar Fascia – Connects the latissimus dorsi, gluteal muscles, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis, supplies tensile support to the lumbar spine, and is used for load transfer throughout the lumbar and thoracic regions.

• Abdominal Fascia – Connects to the obliques and rectus abdominis and to the pectoralis major. Fascial connections that cross the midline transmit forces to the muscles of the opposite side of the body.

The point is that the “core” is a large area that contains many muscles. These muscles do work together to maximize the function of your body, but you have to know how to train them properly.

Functional Core Training is a real advancement in training the muscles of your body. The core is where most of the body’s power is derived; it provides the foundation of all movements. Training and increasing the strength and stability of your core can improve many aspects of your life, including balance and posture. Core training can markedly reduce injuries in every major joint in your body: shoulder, hip and knee. Core training is important, but understanding what it is and how to properly train it is THE MOST important.

The biggest misconception that I see, in regards to core training, is that people think that their core is their abdominal or stomach muscles and they think that doing traditional sit-ups and extensions is doing core training. This is wrong.

In order to get a grasp on core training you have to understand the main principle or goal of this type of training. Proper core training is exercises that work the muscles of the core region, in a series of multiplaner movements. Multiplaner is a fancy term that means in more than one direction.

The body has three planes of movement. 1) the sagittal plane, 2) the frontal plane, and 3) the transverse plane. Think of planes as invisible lines that divide the body in half. The sagittal plane divides the body into left and right. The frontal plane divides the body into a front half and a back half, and the transverse plane divides the body into a top and a bottom half.

The overwhelming majority of all exercise movements are done in the sagittal plane; moving in a straight line, either forward or backward. Running, cycling, walking lunges, chest presses, traditional crunches, etc., are all done in the sagittal plane. Research has shown us that working only in this plane can lead to problems with muscular imbalance, which leads to posture problems, which leads to injury.

Functional core training is training that moves your body in the other two, often forgotten planes of movement. The type of exercises you should be doing, if you are properly working the core, will involve rotational movement or twisting of some sort. The use of medicine balls, balance devices, and stability balls are essential for core training. Also, standing on one leg while performing an exercise will challenge your core or your stability muscles.

One of the main goals of core training is to improve your “dynamic stability” or balance while moving. Dynamic stability is best achieved through training in functionally practical positions that mimic activities or movements in one’s particular sport or in life as a whole. With this in mind, one can conclude that most core training that is done while sitting or lying down and limiting pelvic movement has little functional value.

Make sure you understand why you should be doing core training and how to do it properly. IT IS BENEFICIAL, but must be done properly. Don’t be fooled by people throwing around the buzz word of “core” just to get you to buy a piece of equipment or join a program. Use your knowledge to challenge theirs.


If you are looking for a personal trainer in Lexington and Central Kentucky, check out the bios of our Fitness Plus personal trainers and feel free to reach out to us at Fitness Plus.

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