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The best core exercises may surprise you. It's not enough to just do ab crunches and sit ups. To build a strong core you need to exercise a variety of muscles from your hips to your shoulders. Most people think of the core as a nice six-pack, or strong, toned abs, but the truth is that the abdominal muscles are a very small part of the core. The abs have very limited and specific action, and what experts refer to as the "core" actually consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis, and run the entire length of the torso. When these muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle and create a solid base of support. When this happens, we are able to generate powerful movements of the extremities.

The core muscles also make it possible to stand upright and move on two feet. These muscles help control movements, transfer energy, shift body weight and move in any direction. A strong core distributes the stresses of weight-bearing and protects the back. Core conditioning exercise programs need to target all these muscle groups to be effective.

What are the Core Muscles?

Core strength refers to the muscles of your abs and back and their ability to support your spine and keep your body stable and balanced. Learn how to strengthen your core, reduce back pain and get strong abs.:

  • Transverse Abdominis (TVA)
  • External Obliques
  • Internal Obliques
  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Erector Spinae

Different experts include different muscles in this list, but in general the muscles of the core run the length of the trunk and torso. The following list includes the most commonly identified core muscles as well as the lesser known groups. When the core muscles are weak or there's an imbalance (say you work your rectus abdominis with crunches but fail to strengthen your TVA), a common side effect is back pain.

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