The "core" exercise has become a staple of every fitness magazine, personal trainer blog, instagram poster, and workout phase. And rightfully so - having a strong core allows the rest of the body to function more freely. This is because when one part of the body is stable, it allows the adjoining parts to move better. But what really is a "core" exercise? We'll define it as anything that helps stabilize the spine (which is really the "core" or your body). This means that a lot of those old school crunches, stability ball curls, and all the other exercises that make you look like a capsized turtle aren't all that great for your core, as they don't stabilize your spine, rather, they curve it and potentially damage it.
What muscles do we have that stabilize our spine? Well, we all know the abdominal group and define them as core muscles, which is correct - strong ab muscles will help stabilize your spine (remember that the abs have deep layers and need more than just the traditional exercises to hit the deep ones). But, add to that list your glutes, spinal extensors, mid and upper back muscles, and your diaphragm. All these muscle groups play into your ability to stabilize your spine.
Let's create two basic groups of core exercises - ones that create movement and ones that resist movement. Both are important, and both have an application to both performance and aesthetics. Resisting movement is something like a plank, where we take a position and try to keep it the same. This could also include side planks, bridge variations, and band press outs (or Pallof Presses). In all of these anti-movement exercises we try to stop gravity or a resistance band from making us break our position.
Exercises that create movement are where most people go wrong - they partake in the traditional ab crunches, thinking that by contracting their ab muscles they are getting stronger and healthier, when in fact they are putting themselves into spinal flexion and creating a risk of disk issues. When doing core exercises that create movement, always remember that a true core exercise is designed around stabilizing your spine. So, if your exercise forces your back to curve instead of stay flat, then it's probably not a good option.
At SportPerformanceU, we do put a high priority on anti-movement exercises. A body that can't resist movement due to external forces will never be fast or agile or powerful on the fields of play, so it's important to us that exercises like planks and band press outs are staples of the workout. This also holds true for general health for the population that isn't training for a sport. A stable spine that can resist breaking it's posture will lead to a healthier, less injury prone daily life.