We often use the terms “abdominals” and “core” interchangeably as if they are one and the same. Yet while the abs and the core are related they are actually different. Understanding the distinction between the two can help us achieve better posture and overall health.
The abdominals are, to put it simply, our belly muscles. They are in the lower front of the trunk and include the rectus abdominus (the “six pack”), the obliques, and the transversus abdominus.
There are many ways to stretch and work the abdominals, and in Essentrics we work this group of muscles throughout the routine. A great way to test the strength of our abs is by doing Essentrics sit ups, because when we do so we isolate and challenge the abdominals with slow and deliberate contractions. If your abs are weak you won’t be able to contract and cause your shoulders to come off the floor. (Straining the shoulders and the neck to come up is cheating!) Similarly, if you can only do a few sit ups instead of three minutes or so, you may need some more strengthening for that muscle group.
The core, on the other hand, includes the abs but also the mid and lower back. (Some people consider the hip and the shoulders to be “peripheral core.”) Think of the core as a cylinder around the lower trunk. The abs represent the front and the sides, while lower back muscles such as the quadratus lumborum, lumbar multifidus, and lumber erector spinae constitute the remaining part of the core.
If you can maintain good posture for any length of time –whether standing or sitting, then you have a strong core. This involves pulling in the abs and pulling up the body. Most of us relax our abs when we sit so that the rest of the core, i.e. our lower back, is forced to take up the slack. This is why we often lean against the back of our chairs for support, or we simply slouch with our spine and shoulders rounded forward. Either way the lower back is overworking compared to the abs. This is a common reason for tight lower back muscles, or worse, back pain.
Your organs don't like cramped quarters
If you don’t want to live in cramped quarters, then neither do your kidneys, liver, or stomach. When we slouch we are compressing these organs. By maintaining good posture whether standing or sitting we are giving our organs a healthy living space.
The abs and the core are related but not the same. We need a strong core, which means both strong abs and a strong lower back. When this agonist/antagonist pair are balanced and work simultaneously to support each other, then we can maintain good posture for an extended period of time. Every muscle in our body is important!