The inner workings of the body’s core by Rachel Baker
UPDATED: Mon., March 8, 2021
Used with permission
Exercises that engage multiple core muscles at once, like a plank, seen here, help train the body’s muscles to work together for functional movement. (Pixabay)
By Rachel Baker
When somebody has a strong core, they have much more than just a six-pack. The body’s core refers to the entire midsection of the body, the front, back and sides included. It is made up of complex muscles which stabilize us and allow us to transfer force between extremities to perform functional movement. This is why a healthy core is much more than just well-developed abdominals and deserves to be appreciated and cared for as a crucial component of overall physical health.
Along the back are the spinal erectors, quadratus lumborum and multifidus.
The spinal erectors, or erector spinae, are a group of muscles and tendons which run the majority of the length of the spine on the left and right sides of the back. They rotate and straighten the back, allowing us to bend backwards and side-to-side and to twist to either side.
The quadratus lumborum, often referred to as the QL, are shorter and deeper than the spinal erectors. They run from the pelvis to about the lowest rib. When we are seated, the QL are contracted, which is why lower back pain can occur after long periods of sitting. Eventually those muscles become fatigued. Weak gluteal muscles and a condition of extreme curvature of the spine called kyphosis can also add to QL pain. These muscles also support the core when standing and breathing.
The multifidus runs right along the sides of the spine from the neck to the hips. Its main job is to stabilize the lumbar spine and facilitate several movements of the vertebral column, such as extending the spine and flexing laterally.
Along the front and sides of the torso are the rectus and transverse abdominis, as well as the internal and external obliques.
The rectus abdominis are usually just referred to as “abs” or abdominals. They are crucial postural muscles, facilitating the body’s movements between the pelvis and the rib cage. This allows us to perform a crunch or to stand up straight. The transverse abdominis is like a laterally running sheet wrapping around the sides of the belly area, or abdomen. It stabilizes the lower back, especially before movement of the upper body, and helps maintain internal abdominal pressure. During pregnancy, it supports the fetus and then aids in the birthing process.
In ternal obliques are broad and thin muscles that run laterally along the sides of the abdomen. Both sides of the internal obliques function bilaterally and unilaterally, meaning they can flex and compress the trunk by working together or can function one side at a time to laterally flex and rotate the trunk. The external obliques are also broad and thin along the sides of abdomen, but they sit on the outside around the rectus abdominis. They serve a similar function to the internal obliques.
All of these muscles work together to perform essential, everyday movements. When they are strengthened and stretched regularly, they can significantly lower the chance of injury and general back pain, as well as allow for a healthy range of motion.
To increase and maintain core strength, try implementing a balanced routine of strengthening exercises and stretches. Exercises that engage multiple core muscles at once help train the muscles to work together for functional movement. Planks, or any exercise that requires you to hold a stable core, are great for this. You can also get on your hands and knees and perform opposite arm and leg raise exercises, often called bird dog. Supine toe taps is a gentle exercise great for those with back pain. Lie on your back with knees raised to a 90-degree angle and alternately tap your toes.