Should I Train Core On Its Own Day or With Other Muscle Groups?

man doing a plank

The core is important - aesthetically to some, functionally to all - but it's one of the most confounding muscle groups to train.  Even fitness professionals fall into a lot of misconceptions about what the core is and how to train it. 

identifying core muscles

Before we talk about training the core in isolation versus with other muscle groups, it's important to know what muscles make up the core. The core muscles function to protect the spine from excessive loads and to assist in transferring force between the upper and lower body.  Core strength and stability are vital in the prevention of injury, which to the spine could be detrimental. 

Local Stabilization System muscles

  • Transverse Abdominis
  • Internal Oblique
  • Lumbar Multifidus
  • Pelvic Floor Muscles
  • Diaphragm 

These muscles attach directly to the vertebra. Because of this, they're responsible for both intervertebral and intersegmental stabilization. Additionally, they limit compressive, shear, and rotational forces between the segments of the spine. 

Global stabilization system muscles

  • Quadratus Lumborum
  • Psoas Major
  • External Oblique
  • Parts of the Internal Oblique
  • Rectus Abdominis 
  • Gluteus Medius
  • Adductor Magnus
  • Adductor Longus
  • Adductor Brevis
  • Gracilis
  • Pectineus

These muscles attach from the pelvis to the spine. They work to transfer loads between the upper and lower body as well as provide stability between the pelvis and spine. Additionally, they provide eccentric control of the core during movement. 

Movement system Muscles

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Hip Flexors
  • Parts of the Hamstrings
  • Parts of the Quadriceps

Some of these inclusions may come as a surprise, but all of these muscles attach the spine or pelvis to the extremities. Which means they can be considered core muscles. These muscles control concentric force production and eccentric deceleration during dynamic exercise. 

Identifying your goals

As with most training decisions, how you structure your workout should be derived from your fitness goals. Identify whether your objective is strengthening, toning, or losing weight in the core area. Then organize your training to align with your goals in a way that you can manage consistently. 

Stabilization

This should be the first step in any core training program. An unstable spine can lead to injury. So, it's best to prioritize this by focusing on the local stabilization system. 

The local stabilization system can be improved by incorporating small, focused movements through the spine and pelvis. These exercises primarily involve drawing in and bracing as a means of benefiting neuromuscular efficiency and stabilization in the vertebrae. 

The training pattern for core stabilization is 12-20 repetitions of 1-4 sets of up to 4 different exercises. Movements should be slow and controlled with 90 seconds of rest between each set. 

strength

Next up is strength training. Strength training in the core is where you'll spend the most time. The goal of strength training in the core involves lumbopelvic stability. Meaning that the focus muscles should be the global stabilization muscles. 

These exercises take you through the full range of motion in relation to the spine. They're generally more dynamic movements that build on stabilization, improve force production and reduction, and increase neuromuscular efficiency.

The training pattern for core strength is 8-12 repetitions of 2-3 sets of up to 4 exercises. These should consist of a moderate tempo with 60 seconds of rest between sets. 

power

The last stage of training in the core is power. Power focuses on the movement stabilization muscles to improve efficiency. These exercises increase the rate of force production through this improved muscular efficiency. 

The training pattern for core power is 8-12 repetitions in 2-3 sets of up to 2 exercises. These exercises should be completed at the fastest speed possible without compromising control. Rest 60 seconds between sets. 

training core With other muscle groups

The most commonly accepted determination is that opposing muscle groups should be trained together. This is also called agonist-antagonist training. This method maximizes the efficiency and functionality of your workout. Studies show that this type of training regimen increases strength and power as well as reducing workout time. 

The opposing groups are:

  • Chest and Back
  • Glutes and Core
  • Biceps and Triceps
  • Hamstrings and Quads

Training the core with the glutes makes sense because the pelvis and spine are central to functional movement. Why? Because any of these things are off-kilter it can affect the rest of the body from top to bottom. Since the two are both connected and vital, training one without the other can be viewed as impractical. 

Isolating the core

Truly isolating any muscle group can be difficult. This is especially true with the core since it is involved in so many functional movements and compound exercises. Many exercises not focused on the core still require its activation, such as glute bridges. So, if you're already activating the core in combination with other muscle groups, especially the glutes, then training them on the same day is logical. 

Conclusion

Choosing how to train the core should be based on your personal preferences, goals, and capabilities. A focus on stabilization is the primary reason to isolate the core in a training session. Otherwise, if you choose to combine muscle groups in one training session, it's recommended that the core be worked with the glutes. 

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