The Fitness Zone

Redefining ‘The Core’: More Than Meets the Eye

Mar 11, 2024 | by Ellyn Johnson

In the pursuit of physical fitness, the term “core” often brings to mind images of chiselled six-pack abs, an aesthetic goal that has become synonymous with strength and health. However, this popular perception barely scratches the surface of the core’s importance. Beyond the superficial appeal of a sculpted midsection lies a complex network of muscles that plays an important role in our overall well-being. I aim to debunk the common misconception surrounding the core and highlight its multifaceted importance in fostering athletic performance, maintaining spinal stability, and safeguarding our spinal health. It’s time to explore how embracing a holistic understanding of the core can revolutionise our approach to fitness and enhance our overall health.

Defining the “Core”

What do you immediately think of when you hear “core” or “core training”? The six-pack muscles maybe? What about exercises such as sit-ups or planks? While the six-pack muscles (more on this soon) and these core exercises are significant within a training program, they don’t tell the full story of the importance of the body’s core. Let’s take a step back and define what we mean by the core. Depending on who you ask or what resources you read, the core can be defined in numerous ways. 

Anatomical Definition:

The core refers to the central part of the body, comprising muscles, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues in the abdomen, pelvis, and lower back. It includes muscles such as the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, pelvic floor, and multifidus.

Functional Definition:

In a functional sense, the core is the powerhouse of the body responsible for providing stability, balance, and support for various movements. It facilitates force transfer between the upper and lower body, contributing to overall athletic performance.

Health and Well-being Definition:
From a more generalised health perspective, the core plays a crucial role in maintaining good posture, preventing lower back pain, and supporting spinal health. A strong core is associated with overall well-being and reduced risk of injuries.

So which of these definitions is correct? To truly appreciate the structure and functional significance of the body’s core it’s best to view it through all three of these lenses. By understanding the core’s anatomy, function and role in general health we can appreciate its importance and understand how to train our core in various ways to achieve optimal training results. 

Core Anatomy

At its core (no pun intended), this intricate system comprises a set of skeletal muscles that serve diverse functions, not only facilitating the movement of our spine and hips but also ensuring spinal stability. Although many associate the core primarily with the body’s front surface (anterior), the core, in fact, includes the entirety of the body’s trunk. This encompasses the front (anterior), sides (lateral), and back surface (posterior) of the torso. Although I don’t intend for this article to turn into an anatomy textbook, let’s briefly cover the basic anatomy of the core to set the groundwork for what’s to come.

Anterior Core Muscles

Rectus Abdominis

  • Location: Runs vertically along the front of the abdomen.
  • Function: Flexes the spine (e.g., during crunches) and helps in stabilising the pelvis.

Transverse Abdominis

  • Location: Deepest layer of the abdominal muscles, wrapping around the torso.
  • Function: Provides stability to the spine and pelvis

Internal and External Obliques

Have an anterior and lateral component.

  • Location: Diagonal muscles on the sides of the abdomen.
  • Function: Enables trunk rotation, lateral flexion, and support of the abdominal wall.

Posterior Core Muscles

Erector Spinae

  • Location: Run along the spine’s length.
  • Function: Extends the spine and helps maintain an upright posture.


  • Location: Deep muscles along the spine.
  • Function: Stabilises the spine and facilitates rotational movements.

Quadratus Lumborum

  • Location: Located on both sides of the lumbar spine.
  • Function: Assists in lateral flexion and extension of the spine.

Lateral Core Muscles

Internal and External Obliques

As mentioned earlier, these muscles also have a lateral component.

  • Function: Aids in lateral flexion and rotation of the trunk.

Understanding the core requires recognising it as an intricate system rather than isolating individual muscles. Each component contributes uniquely to the body’s stability, movement, and overall performance, making it imperative to acknowledge and train the core holistically. In the subsequent sections, we will explore how each facet of the core plays a crucial role in activities beyond mere aesthetics, contributing to force transfer, stabilisation, and spinal health.

Core Function

Force Transfer

Consider some common athletic movements such as kicking, throwing or hitting. How can these movements be performed so fast and explosively? Where is this power generated from? Believe it or not, the body’s core has a lot to do with it! Energy transfer through the core is a fundamental aspect of athletic performance, especially in activities that require explosive movements. When an athlete initiates a powerful motion, such as a punch or a kick, the lower body serves as the primary engine for generating force. The muscles of the legs, hips, and glutes contract forcefully, creating a kinetic chain of force that flows upward. This generated energy needs an efficient pathway to reach the upper body, where it can be translated into the desired athletic action.

The core acts as a crucial link in this energy transfer process. As the lower body generates force, the muscles of the core engage to stabilise the spine and pelvis. This stabilisation is essential to ensure that the generated force is efficiently transmitted through the torso without dissipation. The core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis, work cohesively to create a strong and stable platform for the force generated by the lower body. When an athlete’s core is unstable, the energy produced by the lower body muscles may not be effectively transferred to the upper body or may be dispersed in unintended directions. This phenomenon can reduce the overall power, precision, and effectiveness of athletic movements.

Once the energy reaches the core, it is redirected and transferred to the upper body with increased efficiency. In a coordinated punch, for example, the energy generated in the legs and hips is transmitted through the core, allowing the athlete to deliver a powerful blow with the upper body. This seamless flow of energy contributes not only to the force of the movement but also to the speed and precision with which it is executed. The core’s role in energy transfer is not limited to forward or linear movements. In sports that involve rotational actions, such as baseball swings or golf swings, the core’s ability to transfer energy in the transverse plane becomes particularly crucial. The rotational force generated by the lower body is efficiently transferred through the core, enabling athletes to execute dynamic and powerful rotational movements.

For anyone who’s watched the movie Happy Gilmore starring Adam Sandler –

 “It’s all in the hips!” as Chubbs says. 

Consider this force dissipation like a train track. If a train is travelling from point A to point B, the quickest, most efficient way to travel between these two points is along a straight track. This is what happens when we have a strong and stable core. If a train were to travel between these points on a zig-zag track, the trip would be slow and inefficient. The zig zag track can be likened to an unstable core “leaking” force and creating an inefficient movement pattern.  

In essence, the core acts as a channel, facilitating the transfer of energy between the lower and upper body. A strong and well-conditioned core is important for athletes seeking to maximise the effectiveness of their movements, whether it be in striking, throwing, kicking, or any other explosive action. As athletes focus on developing their core strength and stability, they enhance their overall athletic performance by optimising the transmission of energy through this vital central hub.

Spinal Health

A less glamorous, yet just as important consequence of a strong and stable core is its role in maintaining spinal health. A strong core provides support and stability to the entire vertebral column. The core muscles described previously work together to support the spine and pelvis, preventing unnecessary stress and strain on the intervertebral discs (the cushion-like structures or shock absorbers found between the vertebrae of the spine) and surrounding structures.

One primary benefit of a strong core is its ability to distribute load evenly across the spine. When the core muscles are weak, the spine may bear uneven loads during daily activities or exercise, leading to increased pressure on specific vertebrae and discs. Over time, this can contribute to wear and tear, increasing the risk of degenerative conditions and back pain. A strong core helps to stabilise the spine, reducing the likelihood of excessive strain on any particular area.

In addition, a strong core supports proper posture, a key element in spinal health. Good posture ensures that the spine maintains its natural curvature and alignment, preventing undue stress on the intervertebral discs and nerves. A stable core helps individuals maintain an upright posture during various activities, such as sitting, standing, and lifting, reducing the risk of developing poor postural habits that can lead to back pain.

In the prevention and treatment of back pain, targeted core exercises are often recommended. These exercises aim to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine, enhancing stability and reducing the risk of injury. Core strengthening exercises may include plank variations, bridges, and rotational movements that engage the abdominal and lower back muscles. 

Engaging in core-specific training, as well as weight training involving compound lifts not only helps prevent back pain by fortifying the supportive musculature but can also be an effective component of rehabilitation for individuals already experiencing back discomfort. A strong core contributes to improved body mechanics and functional movement. Individuals engaged in physical activities benefit from enhanced core strength, as it facilitates efficient energy transfer between the lower and upper body (as we’ve already explored). This, in turn, can reduce the strain on the spine during dynamic movements, decreasing the likelihood of injuries and back pain.


While we could easily continue this discussion and expand on the nuances of the functional significance of the body’s “core”, I hope we’ve made the point that the concept of the core extends far beyond “six-packs”. Understanding the intricate system of core muscles, which includes the anterior, posterior, and lateral components, sets the groundwork for appreciating its role in stability, movement, and performance – beyond mere aesthetics. Acknowledging and training the core holistically becomes important to harness its full potential and improve our approach to fitness and health. Let’s spread the word and help redefine this concept!


  • Bliss, L. S., & Teeple, P. (2005). Core stability: the centerpiece of any training program. Current sports medicine reports, 4(3), 179–183.
  • Brittenham, G., & Taylor, D. (2012). Conditioning to the Core. USA: Human Kinetics.
  • Huxel Bliven, K. C., & Anderson, B. E. (2013). Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports health, 5(6), 514–522.
  • Prieske, O., Muehlbauer, T., & Granacher, U. (2016). The Role of Trunk Muscle Strength for Physical Fitness and Athletic Performance in Trained Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 46, 401-419.
  • Shinkle, J., Nesser, T. W., Demchak, T. J., & McMannus, D. M. (2012). Effect of core strength on the measure of power in the extremities. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 26(2), 373–380.
Ellyn Johnson

Ellyn Johnson

Ellyn is an Exercise Scientist specialising in youth Strength and Conditioning. She holds her Bachelor's degrees in Science and Exercise and Sports Science. She has previously worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for Academy level athletes at the Brisbane Lions Football Club. She has a background in Personal Training, coaching a range of clientele with diverse goals, including weight loss, body recomposition as well as recreational endurance athletes. In addition to her Strength and Conditioning experience, Ellyn currently works as a Learning Designer at the Australian Institute of Fitness. Here she works as a subject matter expert in the design and implementation of a range of health- and fitness-related courses and learning materials.

Read more articles

View all articles

Disclaimer: Where Certificate III in Fitness, Cert III/Cert 3, or Fitness Coach is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Fitness, Cert IV/Cert 4, or Personal Trainer is mentioned, it refers to SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Program™ is mentioned, it refers to Fitness Essentials and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Plus+ Program™ is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Massage or Cert IV/Cert 4 is mentioned, it refers to HLT42021 Certificate IV in Massage Therapy. Where Diploma of Remedial Massage is mentioned, it refers to HLT52021 Diploma of Remedial Massage.

Download the Guide 👇

Diploma of Master Personal Trainer Course Guide

Download the Guide 👇

Diploma of Remedial Massage Course Guide

Download the Guide 👇

Complete Nutritionist Course Guide

Book a call below 👇