Core training refers to exercises that specifically target the muscle groups located around the abdomen, spine, and pelvic areas. These are typically done to increase strength and flexibility throughout the body. These muscles, when targeted during workouts, also provide a strong foundation for improved movement across the rest of the body.
Exercises that target the core primarily benefit the body by stabilizing and strengthening the body’s foundation for movement. The muscles typically exercised during core workout routines are the rectus abdominis, the erector spinae, the external and internal obliques, the transverse abdominis, and the hip flexors. Different routines may include additional core muscles to stretch and strengthen. A core muscle may be found anywhere between the neck and shoulder area, as well as running along the length of the torso, and down through the upper thighs. These muscles support the majority of the body’s weight during movement and protect the spinal cord.
This type of training can improve posture and alleviate back pain. Strengthening the abdominal muscles allows the body to pull and support its weight evenly throughout the core. An inappropriate distribution of weight leads to a sway-back type posture, in which the body’s weight pulls the muscles forward, the abdominals fail to support the weight adequately, and the back is pulled out of alignment. This can create both bad posture and back pain for affected individuals.
The core is also the body's center for energy and movement. Strong movements in the limbs begin by drawing strength from it. Athletes may improve their overall performance by adapting their workout routines to regularly target core muscles.
The increased stability provided by a strong core may lead to increased accuracy, speed, and strength in movements that depend heavily on the arms and legs. For instance, football, basketball, baseball, and hockey players require the use of strong core muscles to change direction quickly during play, and to throw a ball into a specific area of a playing field with a high degree of precision. Runners also depend on their cores to prevent joint exertion during marathons, and to distribute body weight evenly, to avoid tiring their legs and backs quickly.
There are many pieces of exercise equipment available that can assist in core training. Some of the more popular ones include stability, bosu, and medicine balls, as well as resistance bands. Inflated stability balls may be used to challenge the body’s ability to balance. A variety of ab exercises can be performed on them, including crunches, which can engage the transverse abdominis to a higher degree than when these movements are performed on the floor. This often strengthens both the front and back muscles of the core, and allows for a greater range of movement.
Bosu balls are inflated half-spheres, typically placed on the floor during exercise. They also challenge the body’s balance. Bosu exercises include a variety of movements that generally involve stepping onto and off of the half-sphere in different directions, to force the core to remain engaged and hold the body upright. Medicine balls and resistance bands both involve placing weight or counter-pressure on the extremities, to encourage the body to pull energy from the core into those targeted areas.
Pilates and yoga are usually excellent sources of core training exercises that do not involve separate exercise equipment. They typically include a variety of postures that, when held or pulsed for a specific period of time, target certain core muscles and provide increased strength and flexibility. Plank exercises may be performed during core training, and involve raising the body off the floor with the arms only, maintaining a perfectly straight torso, and holding the position for several seconds.
Variations on the plank pose include alternating between the right and left arms, raising the right or left leg with the opposite arm, and placing the arms on an inclined surface. Each of these shifts the body’s center of gravity and challenges different trunk muscles. Many core training workouts are available, both on the Internet and through accredited exercise DVDs, that show the plank and other, similar core-challenging exercises.