While on tour in Eygpt, I spoke with the trainer/fitness gym manager, Herb. He was an older gentleman. I asked him about a training program for me in preparation for a Ranger Prep course. He rather blankly asked, “Do you want to be strong or look strong?” This question implied looking and being strong are not one in the same. I chose to be strong and not look strong. Herb developed a rather simple program that consisted of various abdominal exercises. This was my introduction to the developing core strength. Read up on it below.
There are benefits to having a strong core other than the external. Core muscles include your abdominals, along with the muscles around your back, hips and pelvis. These muscles keep your core stable while your limbs are active. You, regardless of sport, need to have a strong core to create and maintain strength within your body for any activity. A strong core helps an athlete shift power from the deeper muscles of the hips and trunk effectively to the extremities, withstanding powerful athletic movements and reducing chances of injury. Imagine the handle of a bull whip moving in a deliberate but controlled manner. This motion sends the energy out to the tip which in turn moves at a high velocity. The energy produced from a strong core works in a similar fashion, helping an athlete run faster, jump higher, and kick, hit, and throw with more power.
The body operates as one unit, not in isolation. The body’s core muscles are located in and around the hips, the spine, and the shoulders. The core muscles include large powerful muscles we can see as well as smaller, deeper and more intricate muscles we can’t see. Whereas many bodybuilding exercise techniques focus on isolating muscles for cosmetic improvements, core training takes a more systemic approach. To create balance and stability in the body requires multiple muscle groups all working together with precision.
The Importance of a Strong Core
It is these core muscles that make a strong connection between our lower and upper body, the “core”. Having a strong core will make our bodies more resilient to the external forces that are applied to our bodies daily. For example even pushing open or pulling open a door requires some core strength otherwise as our hand met with the door our upper body will collapse. Without good core strength players would be injured very seriously by leaving their spines unprotected.
The Core Muscles
Stomach: These are the deepest of the stomach muscles and are also considered as the most important for a strong core. They act like a big weight lifter’s belt that ultimately does the same job. They will help with flexing and twisting at the waist and they protect our organs, but their main job is to create a strong core link between upper and lower body (Marked in red on the first diagram).
Obliques: These muscles are positioned slightly to the sides of our waists and link all the way up to the rib cage. There are 4 in total, 2 each side and are made up of internal and external obliques. They will help with the core and movements involving twisting and tilting at the waist (Marked in purple in the second diagram).
The 6 Pack: which sits on top of the other stomach muscles and down the centre from the rib cage to the pubis bone. Its main job is to keep the pelvis in line which in turn protects the spine, although many men will tell you that its main job is to attract the ladies (Marked in red in the second diagram).
Back: These are in fact very small muscles that run up your whole spine on both sides. Whilst your body has full control of them they do do their job automatically, after all you don’t have to remind your upper body to stay upward when you are standing. These muscles tend to be very tight and weak outside of the normal range. That is why, if you have a weak core, it is these muscles that tend to take the brunt of it. Obviously their main job is to keep you upright but they also help with the twisting and bending of your trunk.
Hip: Also known as your hip flexor muscles. These are situated at the top front of your legs and help raise the upper leg upwards. They join in the top of the thigh and travel through your pelvis and onto your lower spine. These muscles are notorious for being short because of the amount of sitting we tend to do and as they join into the lower spine they can be a direct cause of lower back pain. As well as being strong these also need to be supple.
Butt/Bum: Your bum muscles basically and one of the biggest muscles in your body. It plays a major part in moving the legs during running, walking etc and is very important for good posture, which in urn is essential for a strong core. These muscles tend to be very weak on most people and therefore should be worked on. Also, another 2 muscles found in your bum underneath. They are much smaller and again seem to be generally weak in most people. In my opinion these muscles are loosely core related. However if they are not functioning correctly they can create a weakness in the core, especially through sideways movement of the upper body. Their main jobs are to take your leg out to the side and to rotate the whole leg outwards.
Legs: These are definitely not considered part of the core muscles, however you really should consider them a member as one of their smaller roles is to aid the movement of our torsos backwards. Whilst it doesn’t have a major role and is often overlooked, it should be added because of the affect it has on the core when it is tight. The tighter your hamstrings the bigger the negative influence on your core strength. A very important muscle to stretch.