“Tighten your core” “Strengthen your core” – you hear the advice all the time. But what exactly is Core?

For most people, their understanding of Core refers to abdominal muscles. But what everyone should know, crunches and planks aren’t everything! If you want to strengthen your core, you need to think bigger. Your core includes the muscles that run up the back and stretch down to the butt and the front and inner thighs. This group of muscles is where much of the body’s strength comes from; you use it to kick a ball, lift a heavy box, and even stand up straight.

Core has the ability to tune through a full range of motion body movements by way of our fascial system. Movement patterns are the true generator of a core contraction.

I define core like an onion; there are many layers of core, the deepest layers comprise the foundation, while the outer layers encompass the dynamic features. All layers bind and weave together to work off each other. NOT just the abs, but the hips and back as well. Core strength is the ability to isolate your hips from your spine.

Low back pain is often associated with a weak core. Ab muscles deactivate with low back pain. This does NOT mean your back is weak and needs strengthening. In many cases, the low back is already overworked and needs support from surrounding muscles.

A lot of us associate our “core” with that six-pack-shaped muscle in the front of our belly. And yes, you can feel that muscle tightening when you do crunches. But how does that train us for real life? Bending forward is just not something we need to do with a lot of force. But when the abdominal muscles team up with all the other muscles of the core, it helps to hold our body steady in all kinds of positions.

That’s why planks are better than crunches: done properly, a plank works all of your core muscles at once (plus your arms and legs too, for good measure). Each muscle is contracting, providing resistance for another muscle. The end result is a rock solid core. It’s the same situation, where you need to hold steady against some kind of outside pressure, whether that’s a hip check or a flailing child or a heavy door.

Here’s the crunch (no pun intended): Crunches are NOT functional. They do not work to support the lower back, instead, are intended to flex the spine. Although we are meant to forward flex the spine, it has no lifetime warranty. Use your spinal bends in sport and everyday life, don’t use them up in the gym.

A strong core is trained from the inside out: Maintain tight joints with a mobile exterior.