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What Are Core Muscles?

By D. Messmer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Core muscles are the muscles in the body's lower and upper torso. Many of these muscles are below the surface of the body, so they are not visible even when an athlete has developed them. They are extremely important, though, because it is the core muscles that maintain proper posture and that protect the body's inner organs. They also are crucial to most athletic endeavors because almost all athletic movements utilize these muscles to some extent. There are a number of ways to work out the core, all of which will improve overall health and athletic performance.

Contrary to what many athletes believe, strengthening the core muscles involves a great deal more than simply performing a variety of exercises that target the abdominal muscles and back muscles. These muscles are part of the body's core, but it also includes muscles in the pelvic floor, hips and spine. To have a strong core, it is crucial that an athlete work all of these muscles.

These other muscles tend to get a lot less attention, though, because they are not visible. Strong core muscles might not be as recognizable as a set of developed abs, but they still are incredibly important to athletic performance and overall body health. The transverse abdominis, for example, is not visible because it lies beneath the abdominal muscles, but it nevertheless is responsible for keeping good posture and for protecting many of the internal organs located in the abdominal region. Similarly, the erector spinae, which are located along the spine, are not visible but are crucial to maintaining good posture and keeping the upper back in proper alignment. These muscles work with the transverse abdominis to keep the body's trunk stable and thus allow the limbs of the body to perform athletic motions.

It is important to develop and strengthen them all of the core muscles because of their importance in maintaining proper posture. Focusing only on some aspects of the body's core can lead to imbalances that can result in bad posture and back problems. There are several types of exercises that can provide this balanced approach. Workout systems such as yoga and Pilates engage the core in a variety of ways and thus provide a complete core workout. Similarly, exercises that require balance, especially those that use a workout ball or balance board, generally will provide a good workout for the core muscles.

How To Strengthen Core Muscles?

There are many exercises that will strengthen your core muscles. Most involve assuming a specific position and bracing your abdominal muscles as though you’re expecting to be punched in the stomach. Some of these include planks, dead bug, bridges, and superhero or half-airplane.

  • Planks — On a mat, put your hands directly below your shoulders and push them into the floor. Tighten your abdominals and glutes, which will raise your rear end and round your spine into the proper position. Keep your head in line with your spine by focusing on a spot on the floor about a foot in front of your hands. 
  • Dead bug — lie on your back and press your lower back into the floor, as if you’re trying to pull your belly button through your spine. Raise your legs so your knees are directly above your hips and bent at a 90-degree angle. Raise your arms straight up from the shoulder. 
  • Bridges — Lie on your back with your knees up and feet on the floor in line with your hips, ankles and toes in a straight line. As you contract the muscles in your belly, press your feet into the floor and raise your hips until your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line. Contract your glutes at the top of the bridge. 
  • Superhero or half-airplane — These positions can be done from a hands and knees position or with the torso resting on a stability ball. Never do these exercises while lying on your stomach, since that can injure your spine.

    Kneeling on the floor with your hands and knees directly below your shoulders and hips, push your hips back to engage your lower back muscles. Pull your shoulder blades together and contract your abdominal muscles. Lift one leg behind you and straighten it until it’s in line with your hip. Then lift the opposite arm out to the front, keeping it in line with your shoulder. Hold for 10-30 seconds, then do the other leg and arm. Repeat five to six times. For half-airplane, lift your arm out to your side.

Which Sport Does Not Require Core Muscle Strength?

There are no sports that don’t require core muscle strength. If you were to open your favorite search engine and ask this question, you might be told that snorkeling doesn’t require it, but those answers are incorrect. Even if all you’re doing is floating in the water, looking down at the sea below, your core muscles are engaged.

Some people believe that poker is a sport, and according to the Oxford Dictionary definition, it does qualify, since it’s people in competition with others, requiring stamina or strength. Long poker tournaments can last for days, and the simple act of sitting in a chair can become exhausting after many hours of doing so. Staying in your seat involves your core muscles.

Does Running Help Core Muscles?

Running is a whole-body workout, though it primarily uses your lower limb and core muscles. Your core muscles keep you upright and provide the stability your hips need to churn out those sprints or miles spent pounding the pavement. When you’re running, keep your belly muscles engaged to help strengthen your core.

Running won’t give you six-pack abs, but that’s not what the core muscles are all about. Your core is about keeping your body steady and sturdy as you move. To build your various core muscles while running, vary your workouts between longer, slower runs, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and running hills.

It’s vital to strengthen your core muscles so you can easily and safely move your body. Without a strong core, you’ll struggle to do even the most basic activities such as floating or sitting in a chair. There are many exercises you can do to build up and maintain your core strength for a happier, healthier life.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By John57 — On Jan 26, 2012

@bagley79 - I love using a workout ball to work my core muscles. I have found this to not only work my abdominal muscles, but also my spine and core back muscles.

Using a workout ball on a regular basis has also improved my balance and overall coordination.

One of my favorite exercises to strengthen my hips and spine is to lie down on the floor and rest my feet on the ball.

I slowly begin to lift my hips off the floor until I feel my body is in a straight line. I make sure and keep my abs tight, and hold this position for a few seconds.

Lower yourself to the floor and do about 10-12 repetitions of this. You will really feel this working your core muscle groups.

By bagley79 — On Jan 25, 2012

I have always concentrated on working my abdominal core muscles, but have neglected the other core muscles in my body.

After reading this article and the comments that have been posted, I realize that you can have strong abdominal muscles, yet still have weak core muscles.

I have one of those exercise balls among my exercise equipment, but the most it ever gets used is when my grandson comes over.

It sounds like I need to get this out and start working other core muscle groups like my hips and spine. My main reason for keeping in shape is to feel better and be healthy.

What are some of the best exercises I can use with a workout ball to strengthen the rest of my core muscles?

By andee — On Jan 25, 2012

One of the biggest reasons I started incorporating Pilates into my exercise routine was to strengthen my core muscles.

Pilates strengthens core muscles like no other exercises I have done. Because these exercises are easily adaptable, they are great for every age and experience level.

Once I began to exercise my core muscles on a regular basis, I noticed that my lower back pain went away. This enabled me to have better posture and I feel much more toned up and stronger throughout my whole body.

Until I experienced myself how important it is to have strong core muscles, I didn't really realize how beneficial it is.

By truman12 — On Jan 24, 2012

I was a sprinter in college and our strength trainer put a ton of emphasis on the core muscles. He had us do at least one entire workout every week that was dedicated to working our core.

People think of sprinters and think of the legs and the arms. But you have to have a strong core to maintain your posture as you sprint and to maximize the momentum created by your legs. A strong core can mean the difference between a 10.9 and a 10.5. In a race that close that time is everything.

By tigers88 — On Jan 23, 2012

I think one of the best ways to develop your core muscles is to workout on a bosu ball, one of those large inflatable balls that started popping up in gyms about 10 years ago.

There are lots of different core exercises that you can do using the dynamic motions of the bosu ball. Any good trainer can walk you through them. Core muscle exercises are crucial for full body strength. Lots of people neglect their core and end up with back injuries later.

By kylee07drg — On Jan 22, 2012

Many people don't realize it, but everyone uses their core muscles every day. The ones who maintain good posture just use them more.

I can feel the muscles of my torso, particularly my abdominals, contracting and holding steady as I sit upright in my chair. As long as I don't lean all the way back, they have to do all the work to keep me upright.

When you walk with a straight spine instead of slumping your shoulders forward, your core muscles are tensing to keep you in correct posture. This all-day workout allows people who don't have time for exercise to still maintain their core strength, and it requires very little effort on their part.

By StarJo — On Jan 22, 2012

Dance workouts are a great tool for building your core body muscles. You have to move your torso a lot and hold your abs in certain positions that work the muscles, and you can feel the burn as you dance.

I started doing a dance routine as my main workout. I do something that resembles standing crunches. I push down and in and hold the position with my abs, and my back and sides get in on the action, as well.

It is impossible to do a standing workout that involves your abdominal muscles without using the other muscles of your torso. Dance, and your entire body will get involved.

By Perdido — On Jan 21, 2012

@shell4life - I used to do only crunches and situps when working on my core muscles. I thought that this covered everything, but really, these exercises were placing unnecessary strain on my neck while only building certain core muscles.

I heard from a personal trainer that the best core muscle workouts are the ones you can do while sitting or standing up. You don't have to lift yourself off of the floor and lower yourself back down to get a well-rounded core workout.

I got a stability ball and a workout video and started training. I was able to stretch and twist into a variety of positions, and this gave me an all-encompassing core workout. I would recommend that you find a video that focuses on the core and uses a stability ball.

By shell4life — On Jan 21, 2012

So I guess it isn't true that crunches work your whole core. I have believed this for many years, and I have done them every other day in hopes of strengthening my core.

I do both forward and side crunches, and I assumed this was helping me out quite a bit. I'm still young, so I haven't started having back problems or posture issues yet.

What are some core exercises that I can be doing? I want to have a well-rounded routine that strengthens my whole torso, rather than just my abs.

By anon168092 — On Apr 15, 2011

29 muscles.

By anon166427 — On Apr 08, 2011

How many total number of core muscles in the body?

Including both local and global muscles?

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