Core muscles are not just the glamour six-pack we all see in the airbrushed photos lining checkout counters across the nation. No, they actually comprise many more unseen muscle groups, and their overall development is crucial to a person's long-term health and well-being.
For years, people, from ordinary folks doing home workouts to trainers pushing clients in the gym, have slaved away with leg lifts, side bends, and crunches, all in a grand effort to strengthen the core of the body. Yet, as well intentioned as they all might be, the truth is that they are only targeting the "show me" parts.
If you want to see people who truly understand core strength and development, look no further than yoga practitioners and dancers. Neither will have bulky abdominals that look perfect at the beach, yet both will have strong cores that provide them with superior strength, flexibility, and posture.
So, to get a handle on the "what" and the "why", see below.
The Muscles of the Core
Rectus Abdominus: These are the "beach eye candy" muscles that sit just beneath the skin in the front of the stomach area. All the crunches you do try to make the six pack as visible as possible. They are the most obvious of the core muscles, but do not make the mistake that they carry the most importance. You can make this area stronger by doing a variety of exercises from basic crunches and traditional sit-ups to hanging leg raises and leg lifts.
Erector Spinae: A group of three critical muscle that run along the spine from the neck to the lower back. Important muscle group in terms of establishing solid posture for a human, the erector spinae can be strengthened by performing good morning bends, deadlifts, and hyperextensions.
External Obliques: The large muscles located on the side/front of the abdomen along side the rectus abdominus. These are the easiest muscles to build when training, and they run diagonally downward from the ribs to the pelvic area, essentially forming a "V" shape. These muscles allow for the spine to rotate strongly, for the abdomen to be contracted, the torso to twist, and the body to bend sideways. Strengthen these by using weight-assisted side raises, side sit-ups, or side plank.
Internal Obliques: Muscles that run deep under the external obliques, yet in the opposite direction. They actually, because of their unique right-angle set up, connect with the lower back; thus, they perform many of the same supportive functions as the external obliques and can be trained in the same manner.
Transversus Abdominus: The deepest running muscle in the core that wraps the sides of the torso and stretches from the ribs to the pelvis. Though not directly involved in rotating the body, it is a vital muscle in terms of respiration, breathing, and organ protection. Strengthened best by using a plank exercise.
While each area can be trained specifically, each copre muscle is in use during any core exercise, so endless hours need not be spent training the area. Consistent activity with good form will show relatively quick improvement. You will see you general health improves and your posture will become noticeably better.