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Myth: Having a six-pack means you have a strong core!

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

When we see someone with defined abs, our immediate impression is that they are strong and fit; that they must have a very strong core. Is that really true?

Often the terms core and abdominals are interchangeable. When people say “I want a strong core”, they are thinking of flat, defined abs. But that’s only one part of the story…

The core is really everything but your head, arms, and legs. Your core includes your abs, back, and glutes. These large muscle groups provide stability hence it’s called “the core”. Imagine a tree in the middle of a hurricane. The wind is pushing the tree around and its branches are swaying mightily. But if the tree trunk is strong, it does not snap. It can withstand the strong wind.

Same as your body. The trunk of your body is your core, your legs and arms are the branches, and everyday activities are the wind. The legs and arms are the challenge to core stability. Let’s take running as an example (the wind!). Every time your foot hits the ground, your core keeps your trunk from being dragged down with each step. If your core isn’t strong, your hips shift and improperly absorb the impact. This in turn could lead to lower back pain.

So what does this have to do with having a six pack? Heads up - this part is a bit geeky, but stick with it!

The six pack is really the rectus abdominis muscles, which is the most superficial layer of abdominals. There are 4 layers of muscles starting with the deepest layer: the transverse, internal and external obliques, and the rectus abdominis. The transverse muscles are connected through the fascia to your back muscles. So if your transverse muscles are not strong, it pulls at your back muscles and contributes to hip instability. This may be one of the reasons for lower back pain.

When you are working to strengthen your transverse abdominis, you won’t achieve a six pack. GASP! Work on the six-pack if you want to have marketable abs, but make sure you are working the deep abdominal muscles as well.

What exercises are great for training the transverse?

To start simply and without much supervision, planks and roll ups are simple and great beginner exercises. They work the transverse in different ways.

Planks work the abdominal muscles by holding your abs and thus bracing your abs to keep them from essentially dropping on the floor. It makes you activate the transverse muscles. I suggest doing them on your forearms to begin until you get the form correct before integrating your arms with your shoulders.

Roll ups work the transverse, not just activate it. Ever try to peel off the floor from a lying down position without using momentum and turning it into a chest throw? That requires using your transverse!

To learn about the other parts of your core and how they are essential to your overall health - including helping you avoid chronic back pain - follow me on Instagram.

Want to learn how to work your deep abdominals so you can be strong and basically do everything better? Let’s chat! Message me on Instagram or schedule a call.


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