Get The Most Out of Your Core Workouts!

We hear the word “core” all the time in exercise classes, but most of us don’t know what that means, exactly. Some people hear “core” and think of stomach muscles or a six-pack. But there’s a lot more to it than that. If you are going to do a core workout, know what you are strengthening.

An anatomical drawing of the muscles of the trunk.

Here are the muscles that make up the core:

· Pelvic Floor — the muscles underneath your pubic bone that support your pelvic organs like the bladder. Both men and women use these muscles to stop the flow of urine, and weak ones can be a source of incontinence.

· Rectus abdominis (RA) — the outermost stomach muscle that is best known for creating a six-pack. This muscle flexes the trunk forward, stabilizes the pelvis, helps to express air from the lungs and helps you poop.

· Transverse abdominis (TVA) — This is the innermost stomach muscle, inserted deep into the body. It keeps your organs in place as well as expelling air, stabilizing the pelvis and creating pressure for pooping.

· Internal and external obliques (I/EO) — Your body uses these muscles to twist and flex side to side. They are also accessory muscles to breathing.

· Erector spinae — This set of muscles extends from your tail bone to your skull. They protect the spine and also bend your spine backwards and side to side. Erector spinae are essential for good posture.

Now that you know which muscles you are working, here’s what to know about them:

If you want a flat stomach, you won’t get it through crunches. A crunch works your rectus abdominus but it is your transverse abdominis, known as the “corset muscle,” that flattens the abdominal region. Of course, we are still dealing with genetics so you may never have a stomach like an ironing board, but strengthening the TVA will help. The scoop and imprint position I teach in Pilates directly addresses building this muscle. (Watch my YouTube training video on the scoop and imprint!)

What makes a six pack anyway? The rectus abdominis is crossed by fibrous bands called tendinous intersections (TI) that become visible at very low levels of body fat.3 But here’s the rub: These TI’s vary quite a lot in size, shape, and placement. Thus, not everyone can have a six-pack because the TI’s don’t line up to make six sections. Just build a strong core as a part of being healthy and you’ll look your best.

Balanced muscle strength is key to good health and posture. Muscle balance has had a big push in the last few years as people move away from body building-style workouts to functional fitness. Unfortunately, we don’t think enough about the balance between the front core and back core muscles. We do a lot of sit-ups, crunches and planks and not a lot of Swan, Swimming and Breaststroke (Pilates moves that focus on the erector spinae).

Think about muscle balance this way: If you have a strong rectus abdominis, but weak erector spinae, what happens? You’ll bend forward, hunching and struggling for good posture. By strengthening the erector spinae, you are balancing out the tension between the front and back, allowing your spine to lengthen.

Pilates is an all core workout, every time. Every move in Pilates utilizes most if not each of these muscle groups. Even with leg exercises, we are scooping and imprinting (contracting the TVA, RA, and I/EO) as the leg circles or lifts. Back exercises still require a tightening of the TVA. And of course, moves like Teaser require major core strength to perform. Even with correct modifications based on abilities performing Pilates moves will strengthen your core with each class.

Linda Magid has taught group fitness classes for over 7 years. She is certified with AFAA and AEA, with special certifications in Pilates, TRX, and more. You can find her at or @LindaMagidFitness on Facebook and Instagram.

Linda Magid has taught group fitness classes for over 7 years. She is certified with AFAA and AEA, with special certifications in Pilates, TRX, and more.