Physical Training Aug 2003
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The Fit Life

By Glenn Archambault Glenn Archambault

The Core of Things

A strong core is essential to the physical well being of your entire body. But what is the 'core', and what exercises can strengthen it?

The core is the torso, the mid-section of the body that is made up of these muscles:

  1. rectus abdominis muscles (flexor or vertebral column)
  2. external obliques (in charge of flexing, bending and rotating the spine); the external obliques are located on both sides of the rectus abdominis.
  3. internal obliques (in charge of flexing, bending and rotating the spine) are located beneath the external obliques. These muscles assist in maintaining the lower back.
  4. transverse abdominis (the innermost layer)
  5. erector spinae ( the lower back muscles)

I have suffered from lower back problems but by working all the muscles of my core I have not had any problems with my back for over a year.

It is key to exercise all the muscles of the core. One of the major problems of lower back problems is an imbalance in the core muscles, i.e. you exercise the rectus abdominis but not the obliques or erector spinae, causing one muscle to be stronger than the other. This gradually makes your body to go out of alignment which causes lower back problems. The key to lower back health is maintaining the natural S–shaped curve of your spine. This alignment is important because the lumbar region is responsible for supporting all the weight of your upper body. When the curves are not in alignment significant strain to spinal soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) will occur.

There are many exercises that can be done to maintain and strengthen all the muscles of the core. I am a big believer in the Resist-A-Ball or Swiss ball to strengthen your core. The great advantage of the Swiss ball is that your lower back is supported at all times. The following three exercises cover all areas of your core, i.e. the rectus adbominis, the obliques, and the erector spinae.

The first is FRONT CRUNCHES:

front crunches 1 front crunches 2

Lie on your back on a Swiss ball. With arms in front raise the head and shoulders off the ball until you feel resistance in the abs, pause then lower to starting position. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

The second is SIDE RAISES:

side raises 1 side raises 2

With hands as shown, lie with your obliques (upper body) on a Swiss ball, with the right leg over the left for support. Lift up to the right until you feel some resistance in the obliques, pause then lower to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps on each

The last is lower BACK EXTENSIONS:

Lower back 1 Lower back 2

Lie face down over the Swiss ball balancing yourself with your hands and feet. Slowly raise your left leg and your right arm until you feel resistance in your lower back. Then switch and raise your right leg and your left arm. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps on each side.

You may need to start these exercises slowly and perform only one set of 10 reps and then work your way up to the 3 sets of 15 reps. By performing these exercises 3 to 4 times a week you will have a strong core section in no time and you will be well on your way to alleviating lower back problems.

As for that all-elusive six pack you will have to burn off the fat around the mid-section by doing cardio at least 3 to 4 times a week. However, if you do both the abdominal and Cardio exercises plus eat a healthy diet, you will be strutting that beautiful six pack this summer.

Again, these are only three exercises that you could perform. Suffice it to say there are many others that can strengthen the core section. To obtain optimum peak performance one should change exercises periodically to shock the body. Keep looking for new exercises to work your abs.

Keep working out, stay fit and enjoy life!
Always consult a physician before beginning any major diet or exercise plan.

For more columns check out the column archives.

Glenn is a Certified Personal Trainer who has been involved in sports and fitness all his life. After years in the corporate world he now devotes all his professional time to health and fitness.
Physical Training Aug 2003