What's the difference between a six-pack and strong core?

You’ve been hitting the gym every morning at 6am, meal prepping and eating clean with military precision and now you’ve got the abs to show it – you go girl!
So now that you’re rocking that bikini, why do you need to worry about having a “strong core”? And if you’ve got abs already, doesn’t that mean you also have a strong core?
Not quite…
What we see when we look at a set of chiselled abs is definition of the superficial abdominal muscles. More simply, the Rectus Abdominis runs down the front of the stomach and creates the ripples and the Obliques run down the side of the trunk and create that enviable ‘V’ shape.
In the anatomical sense of the word though, ‘the core’ is comprised not just of these superficial muscles but also the deep abdominals, the pelvic floor, the lower back stabilisers, the diaphragm AND the gluteals (hip and buttock) muscles. Yep, more than you thought! All these muscles work together to create a box of support around our spinal column and pelvis.
Having a strong core allows us to stand upright, move around and stay balanced. It maintains our good posture and lets us move our limbs without falling over. Most importantly though, weak core muscles have been linked to lower back pain and lower limb injuries.
It’s much like building a house – you can build the most beautiful, strong house but if the foundations are not sturdy, the house will still topple over and collapse. In other words, you’ll be working hard at the gym and you may face an injury. A strong core provides a rock solid centre where all our movements should start.
So you can crunch to your hearts content, but if you’re only working on your superficial abdominals you’ll be missing out on providing your body with that strong, solid centre. Instead try these exercises to get a total core workout:

3 exercises for a total core workout

Four point kneel arm/leg lift

  1. Start by placing your hands under shoulders and your knees under your hips
  2. Find your neutral spine and gently draw in your deep abdominals
  3. Lift your left arm and right leg off the mat without losing your neutral spine, i.e. arching through your back
  4. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg
  5. Repeat 10-15 times each side

Side support with thread the needle

  1. Place your left hand under your left shoulder and lift your body up from the floor
  2. Gently draw in your deep abdominals to steady your body and stabilise your shoulder blade
  3. Lift your right arm overhead and then thread it underneath your torso without dropping your hips
  4. Repeat 5-10 times before swapping sides

Step up with overhead lift

  1. Start by stepping up with your right leg and pushing your left arm overhead (use a lighter weight, 2-3 kg)
  2. Focus on pushing through the right heel, keeping the pelvis level as you drive up and keeping the spine in a neutral position and not over arching through the mid back
  3. Repeat 10-15 times on the right foot and then swap to the left foot and right hand


felicity dan

About Felicity

Felicity Dan is The Pilates Physio – expert in all things health, exercise and injury. Felicity holds a Bachelor of Physiotherapy and further qualifications in the areas of Pilates, Women’s Health and Sports. After a strong career as a Physiotherapist in professional Rugby Union, Felicity discovered the benefit of specific and individualised exercise programs in managing musculoskeletal injuries. A focus on Pilates based exercises underpins her approach to the treatment of her patients. Felicity owns and runs a boutique Pilates studio, The Physio&Pilates Co. in Newcastle, NSW.

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