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Why and how to train your core


Page updated: 18th March 2022

There's more to a strong core than having washboard abs. This group of muscles plays a role in everything from posture, to power, and strengthening your core can make a huge difference to your functional strength and endurance, as well as your performance in the gym. 

In this article, we cover what the core is, why it's so important to train your core, and the best core strengthening exercises to try. 

What is the core?

The core is the group of muscles around your stomach and back. These muscles work together to stabilise the spine and pelvis. 

  • The Rectus Abdominals 

    Commonly known as the abs, this is the main muscle group people think of when it comes to the core. The rectus abdominals are the muscles behind the 'six pack', but they also play a vital role in allowing you to bend forwards, breathe forcefully and to keep your internal organs in place. 

  • The Internal Obliques

    These essential muscles help the torso flex and rotate to each side. They also work alongside the diaphragm to help you breathe out forcefully.

  • The External Obliques

    As well as flexing and rotating the torso, these large muscles also flex the torso from the sides. They are the strongest of the abdominal muscles.

  • The Transverse Abdominis

    Often referred to as the deep abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis protects the internal organs and helps increase our abdominal pressure which allows us to lift more weight.


The benefits of a strong core

Getting visible abs is extremely difficult, as it requires both a low body fat percentage and the right genetics. This means people tend to neglect training their core. While compound exercises like squats, or any exercises which requires the body to remain stable (like cable machine exercises) do work the core to some degree, performing core specific exercises will really help to reap the benefits of a strong core.

Some of the benefits of strengthening your core include:

  • Better posture

    Poor posture is a really common problem, especially for anyone who spends a large part of their day sat down. Having a strong core plays a huge role in good posture, particularly when it comes to maintaining the right pelvis alignment. Research has shown as many as 85% of people suffer with an anterior tilted pelvis, where the pelvis is rotated forward. The main cause of this is a weak cause, specifically the rectus abdominis. 

  • Reduce or prevent back pain

    Having a weak core is a major cause of back pain. When the core is weak, other muscle groups have to work extra hard to keep your torso stable. This can lead to muscle imbalances, strains, and even worse posture!

    Check out these stretches for lower back pain

  • Improve athletic performance/ better lifts

    In order to perform at your 100% and generate the maximum amount of force with the upper or lower body, both the spine and pelvis must be stable. This is best achieved when the core and glutes work together harmoniously. 

    A strong and stable core allows athletes to perform twisting movements powerfully and safely. It also helps to stabilise the body to provide a better foundation for your lifts at the gym. Even if you don’t consider yourself as an athlete, working on your core is important in improving your workout performance - and your results!

  • Increase balance and stability

    Training your core helps the muscles work together to stabilise the pelvis and spine. When the core is stable, the rest of your muscles can move more efficiently.

Common core training mistakes

While some people neglect their core entirely, others train the core inefficiently. Some common mistakes that we see being made are:

  • Mindlessly training

    People often add on some core exercises at the end of their training when they're tired, or just not feeling it, so the exercises are done half-heartedly. 

    It is much better to train your core less, but really focus on building mind-muscle connection, than to do hundreds of mindless sit ups. Focus on really feeling and contracting your core muscles to perform core exercises; you'll get quicker and better results!

  • Neglecting core training altogether

    Many people are mistakenly led to believe that only training with compound movements (exercises that involve more than one muscle group like squats and deadlifts) is enough to train the core well. If you really want to maximise results and minimise the risk of injury in your workouts, you should be doing core specific training. 

  • Focusing on sit-ups

    While sit-ups are probably the most renowned of ab exercises, there are other exercises which are more effective in strengthening the core and stabilising the hips and spine. Just as you wouldn't train legs with one exercise only, you shouldn't train your core with one exercise. 

  • Not progressively overloading

    Progressive overload is a key principle of building muscle and strength, yet most people stick to the same number of reps and weight (often bodyweight) when working their core. You need to continually make exercises more challenging if you want to continue to build core strength.

How to train the core effectively

If you're looking for a ready-made core workout, try this 10 minute core workout. It's short but very effective - expect to feel your core muscles burning by the end!

Want to build your own core workout? You'll want to include a mix of core exercises, and 'anti-core' exercises.

Anti-core exercises are exercises which train the core to resist movement, which helps to stabilise the spine, while core exercises train the muscles through creating movement. There are three types of anti-core exercises: anti-spinal extension, anti-spinal lateral flexion, and anti-spinal rotation. 

Try a few of the below for your next core workout:

Core exercises

  • Leg raises
  • Russian twist
  • Butterfly sit up
  • Jack knife
  • Hanging knee raises
  • Bird dog

Anti-core exercises

  • Anti-spinal extension exercises: hollow holds, dead bugs, ab-wheel rollouts, plank
  • Anti-spinal lateral flexion exercises: farmer's carry, suitcase deadlifts, offset loaded split squats
  • Anti-spinal rotation exercises: standing Pallof presses, hollow holds, landmine barbell rotations

How to get visible abs

There's no shame in wanting both the functional benefits of a strong core, and the aesthetics of toned abs. Getting a six pack is highly influenced by genetics - for some people, it will be very difficult to achieve defined abs as they naturally hold fat on their stomach.

If you do want visible abs, focus on building your core strength and if needed, losing weight. Losing weight healthily can be a minefield - check out our guide to weight loss here for help.  

For more core inspiration, check out these 10 core strengthening exercises, or for more tailored help, why not work with a Personal Trainer?

Find your nearest PureGym and get started today.

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