Your core’s primary function is to stabilize your spine and hips. This stability provides a solid foundation from which to safely receive or transfer force when you use your legs and arms.
Keep in mind that your core is more than just your abdominal muscles and back extensors. It includes everything from your chest to your knees, plus your internal and external obliques, transverse rectus abdominis (TrA), multifidi, and erector spinae. These small muscles connect your vertebra, glutes, and hip flexors.
When do you use your core?
You use your core whenever you move, but more so when you lift or move objects, or raise your arms overhead. When you move, your TrA is one of the first muscles to fire, which stabilizes your spine. Your other core muscles provide stabilization while you move, and act different, depending on the muscles involved. A strong core increases force production, which is important for generating muscular power.
Core workouts improve sit-up performance—especially valuable if your PFT has a sit-up component. Rather than isolate and fatigue your abs and hip flexors, these exercises work to engage the entire torso, which improves test performance.
For those with back pain, core-stability exercises help to manage pain in the short term. Short-term pain reduction is important because it allows you to be more functional and work at higher levels of activity than your pain would normally allow. Think of it as taking medication to reduce your pain for exercise, except in this case, the medicine is low-level exercise.
Core workouts are low-intensity workouts. They’re structured to build muscular endurance for your core muscles, rather than strength. The most basic is the TrA-and-pelvic-floor exercise. In this exercise, you lay flat on your back, suck in your stomach to draw your belly button towards your spine, and perform a Kegel contraction. This is a basic exercise you can add to any of the more difficult exercises such as planks and glute bridges. As you progress, be sure to watch HPRC’s series of videos on vertical core training for more exercises to challenge yourself. These isolated core exercises—which target a single muscle or joint—are good for rehabilitation and injury prevention, although they don’t necessarily improve athletic performance.
In addition to isolated exercises, free-weight exercises that target other muscles can help improve your core stability. Once you activate these muscles, you improve your core strength with squats, overhead presses, and other free-weight exercises. These exercises target large muscle groups—as opposed to a single muscle or joint—and improve core strength for athletic performance.
HPRC’s foundational movement series teaches progressions of functional exercises that help improve core stability. You can explore other additional resources as well for better performance and military wellness.