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What defines functional core strength?

This is an excerpt from Functional Training Anatomy by Kevin Carr & Mary Kate Feit.

In the mainstream world of fitness and strength training, “core strength” is often associated with the visual appearance of a six-pack abdominal musculature. While having visual abs is a nice aesthetic trait, it has far more to do with one’s nutritional routine than it does with the effectiveness of the core muscle function. As seen with bodybuilding, the visual appearance of one’s muscles has very little to do with their ability to translate to purposeful function in the athletic arena. The ability to brace and buttress against outside forces, transfer force between the upper and lower extremities, and control the movement of the spinal column is what defines functional core strength.

Defining the Core

You often hear the word “core” thrown around when people discuss abdominal training, but it is not very often that you see the core defined and broken down into its individual parts. If you are going to train the core musculature effectively, you need to be sure to take the time to accurately define the muscles you should target in the training process.

The core musculature can be broken down into the following muscles:

  • Rectus abdominis
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Transversus abdominis
  • Multifidus
  • Quadratus lumborum
  • Erector spinae (iliocostalis, longissimus, spinalis)
  • Diaphragm

All these muscles contribute to overall core strength and stability and should be addressed in a complete functional training program.

“Anti” Core Training

Classic core training approaches often feature exercises like crunches and Russian twists that focus on using the core muscles to create motion around the spinal column. While these training methods are widely applied and are effective at creating fatigue in the core muscles, they are misguided in the context of a functional training program.

Functionally speaking, the core muscles work as stabilizers, or anti-movement muscles. Their purpose as it relates to human movement and sport is to buttress the spine, resisting against unwanted motion and assisting in the transfer of force between the upper and lower body.

Core muscles work primarily as isometric and eccentric controllers of motion rather than dynamic and concentric creators of motion.

To ensure effective exercise selection in this chapter, the exercises have been categorized by the movements they prevent rather than the movements they create. Anti-extension and anti-flexion exercises train the muscles that control sagittal plane movement of the spine, rib cage, and pelvis. Anti-rotation exercises train the muscles that control transverse plane motion of the spine, rib cage, and pelvis. Anti-lateral flexion exercises train the muscles that control frontal plane motion of the spine, rib cage, and pelvis.

More Excerpts From Functional Training Anatomy