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Core Muscles Made Simple

Our current video series on sitting has gotten some great comments from people. For one thing, it’s not exactly your typical exercise video (but then, I’ve always been more concerned about wellness and fitness than bulking up, anyway). But it’s also helpful to understand sitting postures that work best for the health of your spine.

One question that keeps coming up is people want to understand the role of the Core Muscles. The Core Muscles are the centerpiece of your stability, mobility, and flexibility – they are also the centerpiece of most people’s pain – so it’s really important to understand how they work and how to keep them working.

This will be a review for some of us, but if you’re new to the blog, this will hopefully be a good crash course in how it all works together.

It Starts With the Hips

Like they say on the hit TV show, “Dancing With The Stars,” it’s all in the hips.

Athletes, gymnasts, and dancers, get their balance and strength from powerful hips. From that center point extend all the muscle groups of your core. Stability, posture, balance, flexibility, and athleticism are all rooted in the strength of the core muscles.

Normally, I try to stay away from the complex Latin names of the muscle groups, but this graphic is helpful for understanding the relationships between the core muscle groups. You might even recognize places you’ve had some tightness or pain. The yellow highlighted groups are the ones that, when they are injured or out of balance, most often contribute to back pain. It’s interesting to note that problems with muscles in the front can cause problems with your spine and back muscles. It goes to show again how interrelated these muscle groups are.


  • While they might be the “butt” of jokes, the Gluteus group is the center of power, your lifting mechanism. This group never works alone, but always in partnership with the other groups.
  • The Adductor group, running along your inner thighs, stabilize your whole lower body. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “When the adductor group of muscles remains strong you have increased hip stability, stronger arches in the feet, and a pelvic brace using a couple of the strongest muscles in your body.”
  • If your lower back hurts, you know it. But more important is how the lower back muscles around the Quadratus Lumbar group keep all the posterior and gluteus muscles aligned. The health of this group is the difference between a confident strut and a weak shuffle.
  • What about the muscles in the front? According to Dr. Mercola, the flexors from your belly-button to your hips (which they don’t have highlighted) are like “a window that shows what is happening at the spine and pelvis. If the front is always too tight, the back is not working properly.” The obliques not only keep your rib cage taut, they also keep your upper body balanced and your posture erect. If these are sore, you likely have some trouble breathing and turning.
  • The Transverse Abdominal muscle is like a corset wrapped around all the others. It attaches the lower ribs, diaphragm and spine to the hips. It pulls everything together, and when it is tight, it strengthens the entire system.

Working Together is the Key

When you’re studying, you can look at all these muscle groups in isolation, but they have to work together for you to stand up, walk, run, and lift large items. The best core exercises are those, like “Foundation Training,” that work the core muscle groups together, strengthening the whole system together in tandem, and aligning it with your spine.

If you look back over the entire library of “Move Right Monday” videos, you’ll see that several of the exercises we’ve learned work all these muscle groups together. Of course, some groups get more movement than others in each exercise, but that’s why there are so many exercises – each emphasizes different combinations of muscles.

The next batch I’m working on for this fall are really going to take you to a new level in physical fitness. As you add each new exercise, you will find that each group will improve in strength, coordination, and flexibility.

How Can That Be Effective?

The thing about these exercises that confuses so many people is that they don’t require any equipment, and very limited exertion – how could they be so effective? But while these look like simple isometric movements, your body responds to them like high-impact workouts, precisely because they strengthen those all-important core muscles.

This is just meant to be an introduction to the core muscles so that you have an understanding as we go. We are going to be spending a lot of time here for next few months as we practice the next series of exercises. Ultimately, we want you to feel strong, limber, and stable, and having a strong core is the key to it all.

I look forward to doing the next series of exercises with you.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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