What is the core?

What is the core?

Strengthening your core is one of the buzz words in the fitness field today. However, I don’t believe that most people understand what constitutes your “core”. I find many people believe “core” and “abs” are synonymous. A common phrase I’ll hear is “I work my core muscles all the time doing crunches and sit-ups.” (or some variation of that). This can potentially hamper the efficiency of your movement patterns and leave you more susceptible to injury.

The lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and the thoracic and cervical spine, where the body’s center of gravity is located.*

For many, this definition may not make it any more clear. A whole book could be written on this topic, but I will try to condense it into a few key points to broaden the understanding.

There are 29 muscles that attach to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (over simplified: the pelvis and spine region). These muscles are broken up into two categories: Stabilization and Movement. Below is a partial list of some of the more recognizable muscles.


  • Transverse Abdominis—side of abs connected to ribs and iliac crest above the hip.
  • Internal Oblique—layered on top of the transverse abdomens.
  • Lumbar Multifidus—the muscles on either side of the spine.
  • Diaphragm—wraps the inner chest cavity. Most people recognize that the diaphragm is associated with breathing but don’t realize that it is a key core muscle that assists in stabilizing your trunk/lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.


  • Latissimus dorsi—yes your “lats” are part of your core. They connect to your ribs, spine and pelvis.
  • Hamstrings—most people are familiar with these muscles that run down the back of your leg.
  • Hip adductors—inner thigh muscles that help you bring your legs together.
  • Hip abductors—outer thigh muscles that assist in separating your leg. These include your gluteus medius, gluteus minimus (your “glutes”) and tensor fascia latae (TFL).
  • Rectus abdominis—your “abs”.
  • External obliques—outer layer of your obliques.

That is an over simplified, abbreviated list of muscles, but as you can see the core is much more involved than simply just “your abs”.

How this is important is the second part of the definition… “where the body’s center of gravity is located“. This is where all movement begins. One way I describe this is if you are doing a basic activity like lifting a cup of coffee to your mouth there is a chain of events that occur in your body. As it relates to the core, your stabilization group of muscles will contract appropriately to brace for the added weight of the 8 ounce cup.

That is a simple example, but it becomes even more pronounced as the activities are more challenging to your body. Whether you are lifting weights, an endurance athlete or simply moving a couch having a strong, well conditioned core is a key component in maximizing your performance and minimizing your risk of injury.

*National Academy of Sports Medicine


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