Core Anatomy and Training for Dummies (more than just abs)


  • There are three key muscles in core anatomy: abs, obliques, and erector spinae
  • Abs flex the spine forwards
  • Obliques assist the abs in addition to rotating the spine
  • Erector spinae will extend your spine
  • All three parts work to support your spine
  • Don’t just rely on just compound exercises to adequately train your abs

Core Anatomy

Most people think of abs as soon as the term “core” is mentioned. Sure, abs are a key aspect of your core. However, core anatomy consists of much more than abs. There are 3 key parts to the core that wrap around your body. The three parts are broken up into the front, side and back around the abdomen of your body.

Rectus Abdominus (Abs) – The Front

  • Begins at the pubic crest
  • Connects into ribs 5 through 7 and the xiphoid process (a small cartilage extending off of the sternum)

External Obliques – The Side

  • Beings on ribs 5 through 12
  • Connects into the iliac crest

Erector Spinae – The Back

  • This is several muscles in one group
  • Begins on the posterior portion of the iliac crest
  • The group of muscles connects into the T1 and T2 vertebrae and the cervical vertebrae

These three parts combined are what create the core anatomy.

Core Functionality

The core’s primary function is to stabilize the spine. Since the spine is key in many movements related to exercises, a strong core anatomy is key for peak athletic functionality. For example, when a surfer is riding a surfboard and is being thrown around by waves, he depends on his core to keep his body engaged and straight to maintain balance.

To break it down further, each one of the three parts of the core anatomy has a specific function.


  • The abs are used to contract your spine
  • Abs also compress the abdomen (This is the equivalent of tightening and engaging your abs and flexing them)


  • Twists the spine and rotates it
  • Responsible for flexing the spine
  • The obliques work with the abs to flex your spine forward

Erector Spinae

  • Extends the back
  • Assists in side-to-side rotation

Should I Be Performing Ab Specific Exercises?

Absolutely. Core anatomy is often overlooked because there are compound exercises (eg: squats, deadlifts) that some people think will get the job done. However, you are not targeting the abs enough with these kinds of exercises. Your journey to killer 6-pack abs will definitely be sped up if you focus on exercises that isolate the core. Training abs is also beneficial for boosting strength. Weightlifters and powerlifters commonly do core anatomy focused workouts, supporting this notion.

How To Train Abs

To get the best results from training your abs, the key concept to keep in mind is that you much fully extend and contract the ab muscle. Contrary to common belief, there is no “lower” and “upper” abs, so it’s all about getting full range of motion to train your abs.

Since you are probably looking for that six-pack abs look, you also need to take into consideration your body fat percentage. Usually, you will need under 10% body fat for your abs to show and you will additionally need to train your abs. As you train your abs, the muscle will grow larger, giving you additional definition and the ability to show your abs at body fat percentages slightly above 10%.

Here are three common ab exercises that will help you get full range of motion and train your abs fully.

  1. Crunches – No equipment
  2. Cable Crunches – Cable machine required
  3. Hanging Leg Raises – Pullup bar required

Crunches are the most common of the three and one of the easiest to perform. You don’t need any equipment to perform a crunch. However, if you have an exercise ball, that will help a ton by giving you the ability to get additional rotation.

Cable crunches also are an ultra-effective exercise for your abs. The cable crunch has a different starting position and ending position than a regular crunch, but the cable machine allows you to add additional weight resistance and the heavier weight will help with more muscle growth. Additionally, you will get a nice stretch and contraction because of the way your body is positioned while performing this exercise.

Last but not least, a hanging leg raise has a large amount of variations, making it great for beginner to advanced gym goers. For advanced users, you probably just need a pullup bar (see here). For those of you just starting, it may be best to use a piece of equipment with a backing to keep your body straight (see here).

How To Train Obliques

If you are looking to get the “V” (I know you are!), the obliques are a key part of your training routine. Some exercises that will help you with this are

Side crunches are going to help you use your side flexion movement. Be careful not to strain your neck while doing this exercise and focus on just isolating and contracting and extending your obliques.

Side bends will also take care of the side flexion function. You can add additional weight by increasing the dumbbell size, allowing you to lift heavier and help to grow your obliques.

Woodchoppers are a rotational movement, where you twist and load up and then release. This rotation makes it an ideal exercise for athletes training for sports involving a rotational movement (eg: tennis, baseball, golf).

How To Train Your Erector Spinae

Your erector spinae is a key muscle in your core anatomy to develop for strength training and sports. It affects your lifting ability for exercises such as cleans and snatches by playing a role in your overhead movements. Exercises focused on extension of the spine will help you train your erector spinae.

Back crunches, while slightly funny looking, are perfect for someone needing a quick workout they can do at home without equipment. Just like with side crunches and crunches be sure you are engaging your core to perform the movement as opposed to straining your neck.

Hyperextensions are done on what is called a “Roman chair.” Hyperxtensions are a great exercise because not only are they good for beginners (just using bodyweight), but you can easily add in a weight plate to increase the challenge and make it an appropriate core anatomy exercise for advanced exercisers.

If you have done deadlifts, the negative deadlift should be a familiar movement. When you are setting the barbell down, try to making the movement at least 5 seconds. Remember to keep a straight spine and avoid rounding. Your erector spinae will be doing the work to keep your spine straight, so be sure to avoid flexing or rounding.

Training Your Whole Core

If you want some exercises to hit your core collectively, here are a few excellent exercises to get the job done.

The exercises above will all accomplish strengthening your core anatomy through keeping your spine stable and straight at all teams. Additionally, they will help you make functional improvement to your other lifting and workout goals on top of helping you reach your aesthetic goals.

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