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Wrote the article today for work. It is based on a huge review of the current literature using EMGs.

How to train the muscles of the core

Core muscles generally refer to the group of six muscles located in the central part of your body. These muscles are essential for providing stability and support to your spine and pelvis, as well as for facilitating movement and maintaining proper posture. The core muscles include:

1. Rectus Abdominis: These are the front abdominal muscles that form the "six-pack" appearance. They help flex the spine forward and stabilize the pelvis.
2. Obliques: There are two sets of oblique muscles, the internal and external obliques, on each side of your abdomen. They allow for twisting and bending movements.
3. Transverse Abdominis: This is a deep muscle that wraps around your abdomen and acts as a natural corset, providing stability to your spine and pelvis.
4. Erector Spinae: These muscles run along your spine and help with extending and straightening the back.
5. Multifidus: These are deep muscles that support the spine and provide stability during movement.

A strong and well-conditioned core is essential for various activities, including sports, lifting heavy objects, maintaining good posture, and preventing lower back pain. Core exercises, such as planks, sit-ups, Russian twists, and leg raises, can help strengthen these muscles. A strong core also contributes to better balance and overall stability.

Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis is a long, flat muscle located in the anterior (front) part of the abdomen. It is commonly referred to as the "six-pack" muscle because it is responsible for the appearance of six distinct muscle bellies when well-developed and visible. The rectus abdominis runs vertically from the pubic bone to the lower ribs and is enclosed by a fibrous sheath called the rectus sheath.

Functions of the rectus abdominis include:

1. Flexion of the Spine: The primary function of the rectus abdominis is to flex the lumbar spine, which means it helps to bend the torso forward.
2. Stabilization: It plays a crucial role in stabilizing the trunk and maintaining good posture.
3. Support for Internal Organs: The rectus abdominis also provides support for the internal organs and helps maintain intra-abdominal pressure, which is important for activities such as lifting heavy objects.
4. Aesthetic Appearance: Many people engage in exercises to strengthen and tone the rectus abdominis in order to achieve a defined "six-pack" appearance.

To strengthen the rectus abdominis, exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, leg raises, and planks are commonly performed. However, it's important to note that visible abdominal muscles are not solely determined by muscle strength but also by body fat levels, diet, and genetics. Achieving a six-pack appearance typically requires a combination of muscle training and a low body fat percentage. Science has discovered that free-weight exercises (e.g., deadlift, hip-thrust, or back squat) showed the greatest ES muscle activation.

Internal Oblique

The internal oblique muscle is one of the muscles in the abdominal wall. It is part of a group of muscles known as the lateral abdominal muscles, along with the external oblique and the transversus abdominis. These muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the trunk, supporting the spine, and assisting with various movements, including bending, twisting, and side-to-side motions.

Here are some key points about the internal oblique muscle:

1. Location: The internal oblique muscle is located beneath the external oblique muscle, lying deep within the abdominal wall.
2. Anatomy: It originates from the iliac crest (the top of the hip bone) and the inguinal ligament (a band of connective tissue in the groin area) and inserts into the lower three ribs and the linea alba (a fibrous band running down the center of the abdominal wall).
3. Function: The primary function of the internal oblique muscle is to assist in trunk rotation, side-bending, and flexion (forward bending) of the torso. It also helps in forced expiration (exhaling forcefully) and plays a role in stabilizing the core during various activities.
4. Innervation: Like other abdominal muscles, the internal oblique is innervated by the lower six thoracoabdominal nerves (T7-T11) and the subcostal nerve (T12), which are branches of the thoracoabdominal nerves.
5. Antagonistic Action: The internal oblique muscle works in conjunction with the external oblique muscle on the same side of the body. When the internal oblique contracts on one side, it helps in lateral flexion and rotation of the trunk to the same side.

Overall, the internal oblique muscle is an important component of the abdominal musculature and plays a key role in trunk stability, posture, and various movements involving the torso. Strengthening and conditioning these muscles can be beneficial for core strength and overall functional fitness. The best exercises to strengthen the internal oblique is the side plank, Russian twist, bicycle crunch, and wood choppers.

External Oblique

The external oblique is a paired muscle located in the abdominal region of the human body. It is one of the four primary muscles that make up the abdominal wall, along with the rectus abdominis, internal oblique, and transversus abdominis. The external oblique muscle is situated on the sides and front of the abdomen and plays a crucial role in various functions, including:

1. Flexion and Rotation of the Trunk: The external oblique muscle helps in flexing the trunk forward, as in bending at the waist, and also aids in rotating the trunk from side to side. When the right external oblique contracts, it assists in rotating the trunk to the left, and vice versa.
2. Stabilization: It provides stability to the spine and pelvis, helping to maintain proper posture and support the lower back during activities such as lifting heavy objects or maintaining an upright position.
3. Protection: The external oblique, along with the other abdominal muscles, helps protect the internal organs of the abdominal cavity.
The external oblique muscle is composed of muscle fibers that run diagonally downward and medially, forming an angle with the midline of the body. These fibers are oriented in a way that allows them to perform the functions of trunk flexion and rotation effectively.

To strengthen and tone the external oblique muscles, exercises such as side bends, Russian twists, and bicycle crunches are commonly performed in fitness routines. A well-developed and strong external oblique muscle can contribute to improved posture, core stability, and overall functional fitness. The best exercises to use are the Bulgarian squat, Russian twist, oblique crunch, side plank, wood choppers, bicycle crunch, and hanging leg raises.

Transversus Abdominis

The transversus abdominis (TVA) is one of the muscles that make up the abdominal wall. It is part of a group of muscles often referred to as the "core muscles." The core muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing and supporting the spine, pelvis, and abdominal organs, and they are essential for maintaining good posture, balance, and overall body strength.

Here are some key features and functions of the transversus abdominis muscle:

1. Location: The transversus abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It is situated between the internal oblique muscle (the layer above it) and the innermost muscle layer called the transversalis fascia.
2. Muscle fibers: The muscle fibers of the transversus abdominis run horizontally across the abdomen, hence the name "transversus."
3. Function: The primary function of the transversus abdominis is to provide stability and support to the abdominal region and the spine. When contracted, it compresses the abdominal contents and increases intra-abdominal pressure. This action helps to support the lumbar spine and protect it during various movements, such as lifting heavy objects or performing strenuous activities.
4. Core stabilization: The transversus abdominis is often emphasized in core strengthening exercises because of its role in stabilizing the spine and pelvis. Strengthening this muscle can improve core stability and reduce the risk of lower back pain and injury.
5. Breathing: The TVA also plays a role in the breathing process. It can assist in exhalation by helping to compress the abdominal contents, which aids in pushing air out of the lungs.
6. Posture: A well-developed transversus abdominis can contribute to better posture by supporting the spine and pelvis, reducing the risk of slouching or excessive arching of the lower back.
7. Rehabilitation: Physical therapists and fitness professionals often include transversus abdominis exercises as part of rehabilitation programs for individuals with back pain or core weakness. These exercises help individuals regain strength and stability in their core muscles.

To target and strengthen the transversus abdominis, exercises such as the drawing-in maneuver (where you pull your navel toward your spine while maintaining normal breathing) and planks are commonly recommended. Keep in mind that a balanced approach to core training should also include exercises that target the other abdominal muscles, such as the rectus abdominis and the internal and external obliques, to ensure overall core strength and stability.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is a group of muscles that run along the length of the vertebral column, or spine, in the human body. These muscles play a crucial role in maintaining an upright posture, extending and rotating the spine, and providing stability to the back. The erector spinae muscles are often collectively referred to as the "back extensors" because of their role in extending the spine.

The erector spinae muscles are located on both sides of the spine and are comprised of three main muscle groups:

1. Iliocostalis: This is the outermost muscle group of the erector spinae. It consists of the iliocostalis lumborum, iliocostalis thoracis, and iliocostalis cervicis muscles. The iliocostalis muscles primarily help with extension and lateral flexion of the spine.
2. Longissimus: The longissimus muscles are located in the middle of the erector spinae group and include the longissimus thoracis, longissimus cervicis, and longissimus capitis muscles. They also contribute to extending and rotating the spine.
3. Spinalis: The spinalis muscles are the innermost group of the erector spinae and consist of the spinalis thoracis, spinalis cervicis, and spinalis capitis muscles. They primarily assist with spinal extension.

These muscles work in coordination to support the spine and help maintain an upright posture. They are crucial for activities like standing, walking, bending backward, and rotating the torso. Proper strength and conditioning of the erector spinae muscles are essential for overall spinal health and preventing back pain or injury.
It's important to note that exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings, squats, and back extensions target the erector spinae muscles and can help improve their strength and function. However, if you experience any back pain or discomfort, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or physical therapist for guidance on proper exercise techniques and rehabilitation.

Lumbar Multifidus

The lumbar multifidus is a group of small, deep muscles located in the lumbar region of the spine, which is the lower back area. These muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing and supporting the lumbar spine and are an integral part of the core musculature.

Here are some key points about the lumbar multifidus muscles:

1. Location: The lumbar multifidus muscles are situated along the length of the lumbar spine. They run from the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine) to the lower thoracic vertebrae (the bones in the upper part of the back).
2. Function: The primary function of the lumbar multifidus muscles is to provide stability and support to the lumbar spine. They help maintain proper alignment of the vertebrae and assist in controlling movements of the spine. When these muscles contract, they help to extend and rotate the lumbar spine, which is essential for activities like standing, walking, and bending.
3. Role in Core Stability: The lumbar multifidus muscles are a critical component of the core musculature, along with other muscles such as the transverse abdominis and pelvic floor muscles. A strong and well-functioning core is essential for maintaining good posture, preventing back pain, and providing support during activities that involve lifting and twisting.
4. Injury and Weakness: Injuries or weakness in the lumbar multifidus muscles can contribute to lower back pain and instability. Conditions like herniated discs, muscle strains, or degenerative changes in the spine can affect these muscles. Rehabilitation exercises and physical therapy often target the lumbar multifidus muscles to improve strength and function.
5. Exercise and Rehabilitation: To strengthen the lumbar multifidus muscles, healthcare professionals may prescribe specific exercises. These exercises typically involve gentle, controlled movements that engage the deep muscles of the lower back. Common exercises include pelvic tilts, bird-dog exercises, and lumbar extensions. It's important to perform these exercises under the guidance of a trained professional to ensure proper form and avoid exacerbating any existing issues.
6. Importance in Spine Health: Maintaining the health and strength of the lumbar multifidus muscles is essential for overall spine health and preventing lower back pain. Engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining proper posture, and seeking medical attention for any back-related issues are ways to support the function of these muscles.

In summary, the lumbar multifidus muscles are deep back muscles that play a vital role in stabilizing the lumbar spine and supporting overall core strength. Keeping these muscles healthy and strong can contribute to a reduced risk of lower back pain and improved spinal function. The best exercises for strengthening the lumbar multifidus are pelvic tilts, the bird dog, bridges and isometric contractions.
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Very nice write-up. I think squats with a safety-squat bar (or front-squats if someone doesn't have access to an SSB) are also great for core strength. They are kind of like a vertical plank. Weighted planks are also great and seem to give a much more intense contraction as well as eliminating the boredom factor.

After I had a back injury, I found that many core moves aggravated my back so I have to be very careful, and I avoid any form of weighted twists such as what people often do with a medicine ball. Personally, I find that bicycle crunches and leg raises with the torso vertical (with a static hold at the top) are two very effective movements.

Also, regarding the hip thrust (which I didn't think of as a core-strengthening movement, but since you mentioned it) I find it to be way more effective if the contraction is held at the top for 5 or 10 seconds. I don't think flopping up and down as most people do it is nearly as effective. Super-setting these with sled pushing is a great combo. Women love the hip-thrust but don't seem to have discovered sled-pushing, which I think is much better all-around and likely has a fair amount of core involvement as well.
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For my abs, I like to hang from a bar and do leg raises after that I do knee raises. It really brings out my abs. It only takes a few minutes of work to build a nice abs.


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After two decades of doing the usual core stuff, I started trying different animal crawls and so-called primal movements (bear crawls, crab walk, sit throughs, etc). Sounds (and looks) goofy, but it has been game changer and it oddly relaxing. Highly recommend it.


Active Member
For posterior chain and core I prefer cleans in all variations. Plank exercises where you are continually moving is also great and has resolved 99% of my sciatic pain.
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