I last discussed different definitions of the core and about training the core for different purposes – mainly sports specific training.
However, if you are not an athlete and just wants to get in better shape, you may want to know what core exercises will give you the most effective training in a cost-effective training time each session, then it would be valuable to know what specific exercises will achieve this goal.
Most of the previous scientific studies on the core had limited their exploration to comparing different core isolation exercises.
However, a study published in the 2013 issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research investigated whether integration – core exercises that require activation of the muscles away from the center of the body – or the isolated trunk muscles caused greater activation of primary trunk muscles (abdominal and back muscle groups).
Monitoring of muscle activity was made by surface EMG electrodes monitoring electrical activity.
In the study, a group of men and women performed a randomized set of exercises composed of either core isolation, or compound exercise involving both the core muscles and either shoulder or hip.
The exercises were selected to be paired in a way that complemented the area of the body used.
For example, the traditional crunch sit-up was paired with a hover, or a plank position with variation of the support of arm or leg support under the subject.
An oblique crunch, or crossover sit-up was paired with a side hover, side-plank with arm extended and a back extension isolation exercise was compared with a horse stance, sometimes called bird-dog, with resisted arm and leg movements.
Researchers stated that their assumption before the study took place was that core muscles would be activated more strongly in the isolation exercises, partly due to the fact that support of the shoulder and hip muscles would take some of the load away from the core area.
However, the results showed that in every case that the compound exercises involving shoulder and hip muscles generated more muscle activity in the involved core muscles.
Another remarkable finding was that, contrary to popular belief, the rectus abdominus muscle was more active than the oblique group even in the two oblique exercises (cross-over crunch and side hover).
Many trainers teach that the main muscles used in these exercises are the oblique abdominal group.
Using the above information would allow the general fitness enthusiast to make more productive use of their time in the gym when training the core.
It would be a good idea to incorporate two or three of the cited compound exercises.
There are, of course, many other exercises, such as squats, bridges and push-ups that make use of the compound core and hip-shoulder combinations that would be useful, as well.
One final word about why we train the core: despite years of knowledge that strengthening the muscles around the trunk does nothing to slim and trim your waist down, there still seems to be a fascination and compulsion with training the core area hard.
I think that even some people who know spot-reducing does not work are still subconsciously drawn to the idea and sometimes become preoccupied with it.
Training the core is important for many reasons, but it should be done within a rational, well-rounded, goal-oriented exercise plan, whether it be sports-specific or general fitness.