What Are the Core Muscles?
At some point in adult life, most of us say to ourselves, “I have to strengthen my core.” In this moment of personal insight, what precisely do we mean when we use the word “core”?
To many of us, “core” means one specifically located muscle group: the abdominals. We picture clearly defined muscles rippling like corrugated steel and lying sideways across the center of the lower torso. We say to ourselves, “If I could just get my abs to look like that, I would be all set. My core would be super strong. My back would not hurt. I could rake leaves and play golf without any pain. My digestion would be great. I wouldn’t have to worry about my weight at all. My clothes would look great on me. My blood pressure would be right on the money…”
Others of us have a more three-dimensional mental picture of the “core.” Those of us in this group believe the “core” includes the muscles on the sides of the lower torso¾sometimes hidden beneath “muffin tops” or “love handles”¾and the muscles of the lower back. We see the “core” as wrapping around the entire circumference of the midsection, like the fibrous and seedy core of an apple after we have eaten the fleshy fruit surrounding it.
Clearly, this second definition of our core muscles is more comprehensive than one limited to only the abdominals. However, even this second mental snapshot of our core may be too restricted. There may be more to the core than we see, at least at first glance.
In addition to assessing the physical appearance and anatomical locations of skeletal muscles, it is vital that we consider also how our muscles function. In thinking about the functions of the muscles of our arms, for instance, we need to consider not just the movements of the biceps and triceps, but also how these two muscle groups interact with movements in the forearm muscles below and in the shoulder muscles above. Hundreds of the physical acts we perform every day require intricate interactions among all these highly related muscle groups. Similarly, in the midsection of the human body, many of the muscular movements of the abdominals and lower back require synchronous movements in the muscles of the hips. For example, the seemingly simple but deceptively complex act of walking requires highly coordinated movements among all the major muscle groups above and below the waist.
A truly functional definition of our “core” must include all the muscles around the entire circumference of the human body from the bottom of the rib cage to the tops of the knees. Thus, another term we may use to describe our “core” is the Lower Torso/Hip Complex. The muscles that create movements in the hip joints work in intricate harmony with those that create movements in the lower torso. In this comprehensive view of our “core,” we see a motion picture. We visualize highly coordinated actions in all the major muscles in the middle third of our bodies as we engage in thousands of physical activities every day of our lives.