Courtesy Harley Pasternak
Harley Pasternak
August 29, 2013 11:00 AM

The word core has truly become the most overused – and misused – buzz word in the fitness world.

People think crunches give you a strong core (wrong), electric abdominal toning belts give you a better core (wrong), core training can burn belly fat (wrong), or the best cure for bad posture is a better core (wrong).

In fact, most people don’t really know what “the core” actually is.

Simply put, the core are the muscles that connect our upper body to our lower body. The core muscles allow us to bend forward, sideways, backwards, and twist our bodies.

Our core not only facilitates movement, it can help prevent injury and provides support for our spine.

With nearly 30 muscles contributing to the core, we will mainly discuss the four primary muscles that you should focus on when exercising.

At the front of the core, you will find the rectus abdominis (aka “six-pack” muscles). These are responsible for helping us bend forward. Most of us actually overtrain these muscles in a (misguided) attempt to burn belly fat. In fact, this contributes to a muscle imbalance that can actually create the illusion of having a belly – even if you are lean – and a shorter midsection.

Along the sides of our core you will find the obliques (under the love handles). For the most part, these muscles help us bend sideways.

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Wrapping around the core are the transverse abdomens (corset muscles). These oft-neglected muscles serve to pull our abdominal walls inward and helps us twist. When we strengthen our transverse abs, it has a “corset effect,” meaning it cinches and flattens our waist and belly. Who doesn’t want that?!

Our lower back is mainly made up by our spinal erectors (the two rope-like muscle groups that run along either side of the spine). Strengthening your lower back is actually the key to flattening your tummy and lengthening the front of your midsection. A strong lower back is also essential to better posture and injury prevention.

Stability exercises that strengthen all the major parts of our core will help you with injury prevention and stability, but they’ll also drastically improve the way we look by creating a longer, leaner silhouette.

Give your crunch routine a break and try these exercises instead:

Rectus Abs: Plank

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Rest your forearms on the floor and extend your legs back so your toes are on the ground and there’s a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Contract your midsection and hold as long as you can.

Obliques: Elbow to Knee

Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Lie on the ground on your left side, hands stretched above head. Lift right knee and pull right elbow down so they meet. Return to start. Do desired reps, then do other side.

Transverse Abs: Seated Trunk Twist

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Sit on the ground with your knees bent, feet together, and heels on the floor. Sit as tall as possible with your back erect. Clasp your hands (or hold a light hand weight) close to your body between your navel and your ribcage. Keeping your back straight, exhale and slowly rotate your torso to your right side. Pause briefly at the end of the twist, inhale and then gently exhale while rotating to the left side. Repeat the movement back and forth.

Lower Back: Superman

Harley demonstrates superman
Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Lie face down on the floor with your arms and legs fully extended. From this position, lift your arms toward the ceiling, as if you were flying. Lower back down and repeat. For increased difficulty, add your lower body, lifting your legs at the same time as your arms so that your body looks like the letter ‘X’ from above. Tap the floor with your hands and feet between reps.

Try these exercises and let me know what you think. Tweet me @harleypasternak.

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