What is Core, Anyway?

“Core strength” has become almost a buzz word. What exactly does it mean, and why is it important?

Contrary to popular belief, and to some fitness industry marketing, your “core” is not just your abs. Its definition varies slightly depending on which book you read, but core is your entire body pillar: abs (upper, lower, lateral, and internal), back (upper and lower), hips, and glutes.

The body pillar is your fundamental engine for motion. Your legs could be ripped, but if your hip flexors and muscles that support breathing aren’t equivalently strong, you won’t be able to move them powerfully.

To be strong and efficient in triathlon, we don’t need big “gym” muscles. Instead, we want to strengthen and stabilize the core body, because that’s what supports posture and movement on land or in water. And, we want to strengthen the limbs and the prime mover muscle groups around the shoulders and hips – but the key here is balanced strength. If your quads are huge but your hips aren’t strong enough to push an equivalent weight, then the big quads are wasted mass and energy.

A classic example of over-worked abs – the six-pack. How many guys have you seen at the gym, lifting their shirts to admire their six-packs? But, the rectus abdominis is only one abdominal muscle, and can’t do much all by itself. Equally important are the muscles that wrap around to your sides, and your deep lower abs (obliques, and transversus abdominis, or T.A.).

The T.A.:

Using myself as an example:

Left, in mid-2004, before my introduction to true core strength:  Did that six-pack get me anywhere? Not really. My core muscles weren’t developed in a balanced way that supported movement; and my hips were tighter and more stressed.

Right, in 2005, a more balanced core, even while standing still. My hips were more open, and my times were a little faster, even though I wasn’t able to train as much or as intensely.

For more tips on how to strengthen your core properly, you’re in the right place!

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