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In the last literary diatribe, well it was actually a rant really, we got into core strength and why I abhor it. We then made a break through in group and realized that it wasn't core strength I detest, as much as its the fact that it isn't understood very well. When you asked me how I felt about that, I said "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Oh wait, wrong movie.

I answered that it is the most overused word in the world of fitness, and quite frankly the one most abused. All in the name of getting stronger, so the intentions are there, but we all know what the road to H-E-Double-Hockey-Stix is paved with.

Your reward for reading the first two paragraphs, is the core defined, explained and demystified. Enjoy....

What is the Core?
The muscles that stabilize your spinal column and lumbo-pelvic hip complex to allow you to move. Long story short, all of the muscles of the abdomen, hips (glute complex) and low back. All of these muscles are tasked with one thing and one thing only: keep you safe and prevent you from breaking as you move.

If humans weren't so damn good at finding the loop holes in this scenario (endurance sports, sitting down all day, etc) to push our structural integrity to absurd levels, this system would be pretty effective. But when we throw something over head at 100mph, try to find holes between 300lb human beings to run through and insist on engaging in repetitive stress activities, this protective system doesn't stand a chance!

On the flip side, if you know where the muscles are and how to properly train them, your chances of survival go up exponentially. So you've got that going for you which is nice. That's a Caddyshack reference for those of you born after 1980. Great movie, Netflix should have it. Several life lessons about gambling, fidelity and discovering your true potential are wrapped up in this little celluloid gem.

The core is a lot more than abs and butt. It is a pretty intricate system of smaller muscles working together to provide a movement platform for your "beach muscles." Treat the little ones well, and the big ones will perform at levels at that allow humans to make $million$ a year playing a sport.

Here's a quick rundown of the systems and the muscles that make them up.

PLEASE NOTE: some of them are traditional core muscles in the trunk/pelvis, while others are directly affected by the trunk/hip muscles:

1) The local muscular system:
These are muscles whose primary job is to provide joint support/stabilization, and they typically reside close to joints.

Muscles: Transverse abdominus (lower abdominal wall), multifidus (spinal column), internal obliques, diaphragm and muscles of the pelvic floor (think Kegles).

2) Global Muscular Systems (Movement Systems)
Responsible for movement and consist of more superficial muscles that originate from the pelvis, rib cage, lower extremities and sometimes both.

Muscles: rectus abdominus, external obliques, erector spinae (low back), hamstrings, glutes, lats, adductors (bring legs closer to midline of body), quads and calves.

These muscles are meant to assist movements of the trunk and limbs to equalize external load demands. These muscles are further broken down into two more sub systems, but if you know they produce movement, you're in business.

3) Deep Longitudinal Subsystem (Force production)
This system's primary job is to generate reciperocal force transmission from the trunk to the ground. Think the push off phase of walking/running.

Erector spinae, thoracolumbar fascia (lumbar spine), out hamstrings, lateral calves

4) The Posterior Oblique Subsystem (Rotation)
Works directly with the DLS. Primarily responsible for allowing us to swing bats, golf clubs, tennis rackets, etc. Putting on a seat belt comes from here as well.

Glutes, lats, thoracolumbar fascia

5) The Anterior Oblique System (Locomotion and Rotation)
These muscles help us walk as well as rotate, and are in the front of the body. They assist in pelvic stabilization and the swing phase of our gait.

Internal/External obliques, adductors and external hip rotators (glute medius, etc).

6) The Lateral Subsystem
This system helps us stabilize the pelvofemoral (pelvis/femur area) region as well as the frontal plane (side, don't ask, I have several times as to why the frontal plane is the side of the body).

Glute medius, tensor fascia latae (hip crease area), adductors (thigh master muscles), quadratus lomborum (low back).

And there you go. Here are the muscles of the core, their location and what the heck they actually do. This is why I have such an issue with all of the "core" work people do without being under the watchful of someone who knows the body. It is so much more than a plank, a lunge, and the reason why crunches are worthless ways to get these systems stronger.

If one muscle in any one of these systems gets out of alignment, altering its length tension relationship to another set of muscles, the system begins to break down. Keeping in mind our bodies are the lump sum total of several systems that INTEGRATE (gratuitous plug!) together to produce movement.

So the next time you're out and about, and you see someone who looks like they should be on a piece of cardboard doing the "Dolphin" as the break dance, you'll know systematically, they've broken down, and they are headed for an injury.


Al Painter is National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES) who specializes in working with baseball players and endurance athletes.

He is also the President and Founder of INTEGRATE Performance Fitness. CitySports Magazine named Al the "Bay Area's Best Personal Trainer," and he has also received a "People's Choice Award" from the Palo Alto Daily News. Al is also the Fitness Editor for

INTEGRATE Performance Fitness has also been named "Northern California's Best Fitness Facility" by Competitor Magazine, "Best Mountain View Training Facility" by the U.S. Commerce Association, "Excellence in Customer Satisfaction Award" winner by Talk of the Town as well as a "Top 5 Bay Area Fitness Facility" by the

You can contact him via email at [email protected], or send him a note on facebook.
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