Core muscles explained

healthy body Feb 17, 2023

Text: Nicole Richardson

If you have heard the expression “core muscles” and wonder what it means, this article is for you. 

At the end of the article, you can see a video on activating your core muscles and some easy-to-follow core exercises you can do at home.  

If, during a workout, you have heard your instructor say, “Engage your core,” - you might know that it means "tighten your abs," - but do you know what your abs are?  

Most people think that contracting your abs engages the core, yet there is much more to it than this.

What are core muscles, and how can you improve your life by training up these muscles


Table of content

  1. What are your core muscles? 
  2. Why your health will improve by activating your core muscles


1. What are the main core muscles?

It’s a group of more than 20 muscles in the lower back, stomach, and hips. In Latin, the abs–rectus abdominis is a small fraction of this large and dynamic muscle group.

All these together are: 

  • the center of all movement & includes everything other than your arms and legs
  • the center of our body functions to stabilize the trunk while the arms and legs move during functional movements

Effective core engagement is achieved by explicitly contracting the deep stabilizing muscles. 

Your core is a series of muscles extending far beyond just your abs.

The muscle of the core explained.

As seen in the image above, the major core muscles include:

  • Transverse abdominis, which is a large muscle that wraps around your spine and sides (acting like a ‘corset’)
  • multifidus
  • internal and external obliques
  • erector spinae
  • diaphragm
  • pelvic floor muscles 
  • rectus abdominis. 

Your minor core muscles include your lats, traps, and your glutes.


What is their primary function?

These muscles must engage and disengage at the correct time for the core to be maximally stabilized, as they will 
keep you stable in every movement that you do.

They allow you to:

  • rotate
  • resist rotation
  • maintain good posture
  • stabilize and keep your balance


Does a six-pack mean you have a strong core?


A 6-pack means you have a low body fat percentage and a strong rectus abdominis, but one can have all of this even with a weak core. 

We all have different body compositions.

Someone can have a very strong core without showing a huge amount of muscle definition. 

How a trained six-pack looks like. 

2. Why your health will improve when you activate the core muscles 

By activating and using your core correctly, you’ll be able to perform exercises & everyday tasks more efficiently and effectively (housework, gardening, sports & other pleasurable activities). 

While housework and pleasurable activities should NOT even appear in the same sentence, what I am getting at is that you need your core for practically EVERYTHING!

If your core is not working correctly and the muscles are not firing in the correct sequence, it can cause pain and injury in your hips, knees, and back. 

How to activate your core muscles

Training your core to activate correctly can take months, but your body will thank you for that. 

When trying to contract these muscles, you can imagine that you have a tight pair of pants on & you have to gently ‘pull in’ so that you can ‘zip up’ those pants. 

Another way you can think about it is like a belt tightening around your center.

This contraction shouldn’t be hard (only at about 30% effort). If you feel a pull in your lower back when doing this, you are contracting too hard. 

This pain in your back can be caused by trying too hard to engage your midsection muscles, and as a result, you end up arching your lower back and flaring your ribcage out. 

There should be minimal to no movement seen in the stomach when contracting these muscles; if you do, ensure you reduce the intensity of your contraction.


Which exercises should you include in the training of your core muscles?

Here are nine great core exercises you should do:

  • Side Plank
  • Hand Plank
  • 4-Point Superman
  • Side-Lying Leg Lift
  • Prone Extension
  • Static Plank
  • Dynamic Plank
  • Straight Leg Lifts
  • Toe Taps


See this video for examples of exercises to train your core muscles.

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