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Published January 19, 2008

Just why is the core so important?

“Work your core.” It’s the new phrase that has taken the fitness industry by storm. New findings are constantly being discovered about the importance of core strength, and really, until recent years, the core wasn’t a much stressed component to fitness.

If you go to the gym and hammer out 10 minutes of crunches after each workout, YOU’RE SELLING YOURSELF SHORT!

Many people hear the word core and think “six-pack”. While a six-pack is a great achievement, it shouldn’t be mistaken for the core.

So what is the core anyway? You actually have two cores: an inner and an outer core.  Your outer core is what everyone thinks of, the “six-pack” abs, obliques (“side abs”), and your low back muscles. Your inner core is all the muscles that surround the spine itself. I’ve used an example similar to this before, but picture a radio tower.  You know, the kind that’s a single tower bolted into the ground with cables coming out from it.
Let’s picture the cables coming out of the sides as the abs, obliques (“side abs”), and low back muscles.
Question: What would happen if one of the cables was pulled really tight (i.e. abs)?

Radio tower
Radio tower.

That’s right. The tower would fall over. The same can be said with our bodies. The problem with just constantly doing different variations of crunches is the ab muscles are being worked way too much, and as a result, the abs become way too tight.
In order to properly develop the outer core, you must develop the inner core; as with the radio tower, if the base of the tower isn’t strong (i.e. inner core), then the tower will collapse. Developing the inner core means strengthening tiny muscles surrounding the spine as well as a layer of muscle that wraps around the abdominal and low back areas. This layer of muscle is called the transverse abdominus; it can really be considered your body’s natural corset. If this muscle isn’t kept strong, then it’ll loosen up and contribute, among other things, to the belly hanging out.
As you’ve probably already guessed, a lot of people are weak in this area. A huge contributor to this problem is laziness, or to be more precise, slouching; I can be a culprit of this one. By slouching in a chair, or while standing, the transverse abdominus, along with all the other inner core muscles, isn’t being activated.
Why do you think about 80% of Americans suffer from low back pain?

By strengthening the inner core, you set yourself up for improvements in every other area of fitness.

Just something to think about.

As a result of not being activated, the inner core muscles weaken, and this leads to deteriorating balance/stability, quickness, low back problems, etc.
Here’s something to observe; for those of you who’re parents of young kids, this is easy. For those of you that aren’t parents yet, whenever you’re around little kids, I’m talking 5 years old or so, watch how they sit. Most sit nice and tall on the edge of their seat. I’m not a parent yet, but I observe this with my little nephews when they’re watching Star Wars or Power Rangers or something. They’re always sitting up straight.
As kids, our inner core starts out strong because we need it to be strong in order to learn to walk. As we get older though, we become lazy with our posture, and in comes the low back pain.
Now that we’re all sitting up straight reading this…another benefit of keeping the inner core strong is it won’t be a contributor to the outer core muscles becoming too stretched out; they’ll be at the ideal length to develop properly. If the radio tower leans, the cables stretch and aren’t in proper alignment, form, or strength.

The moral of the story, work the inner core. As I’ve talked about in the past, when designing a workout program, it’s essential that you incorporate balance/stability into the program. By strengthening the inner core, you set yourself up for improvements in every other area of fitness. That’s a strong statement, but it’s true! NFL athletes, track & field athletes, marathoners, NBA athletes, Olympic lifters, the list goes on, they all incorporate inner core strength into their workout routines.
I don’t know how many of you saw the interview with LaDainian Tomlinson (last year’s NFL MVP) on 60 Minutes, but if you saw him working with his unbelievable trainer, Todd Durkin, you probably remember him standing on a half-ball (BOSU Ball), on one foot, while catching and throwing a football. That was an example of an inner core exercise, and it was perfect for improving his coordination and stability.
If you go to the gym and hammer out 10 minutes of crunches after each workout, YOU’RE SELLING YOURSELF SHORT!

Here’s what I’d do. I’d split your crunch routine in half. Focus on doing 2 to 3 inner core exercises at the beginning of your workout. After the workout, finish with 2 to 3 outer core exercises: crunches, back extensions, etc.
If you go to Your Live Trainers, you can click on the sample session, and it’ll show you an inner core exercise. I’m also going to be posting some inner core exercise videos on my website,, so keep checking back, for new ideas, over the next few weeks.

So to recap, strengthening the inner core provides a strong base for the outer core muscles to develop around. The stronger the inner core, the stronger and more developed the outer core. The stronger the inner core, the better your balance will be. The stronger the inner core, the better your quickness (jumping out of the way of a runaway person on rollerblades, seriously, I’ve had to do it before) will be.  Finally, the stronger your inner core, the faster your muscles develop, the faster your power develops, the less likely you’re to get injured, and the faster the pain in different areas of your body (low back for one) goes away.

Dan Falkenberg is the co-founder and co-owner of Your Live TrainersHe can be reached at

Tags: , injury prevention, program design


1 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Liam Ward
January 18, 2011 7:44pm [ 1 ]

Sounds like very sound advise. Every person needs to do an inner core workout once a day. I am tall, 6'4" and I used to swim every day. It's a great exercise for taalies because you get to stretch your core out in the water and perform constant exercise with a stretch, long, strong inner core. Now I'm a designer I have to sit at a desk for a large period of the day and my inner core has weakened. Bummer, but swimming is great. I play squash too, which is good for the legs and butt! Peace :)

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