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Core vs Abdominal Training – What’s the Difference?

Are core training and abdominal training the same thing? The short answer is sort of. Many individuals confuse abdominal training with core training. They spend their time completing hundreds of crunches and boast they are training their core but in reality, they are only training part of their core. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two types of training.

Abdominal training involves moving or contracting the abdominal wall. The abdominal wall, located toward the front of the body, is made up of five muscle groups – the rectus abdominis, pyramidalis (very small muscle!), internal obliques, external obliques, and the transverse abdominis. The rectus abdominis and the pyramidalis both run vertically and are located towards the middle of the body. The external and internal obliques as well as the transverse abdominis are flat muscles that are situated towards the sides of the trunk. These muscles are ‘stacked’ upon each other with the external obliques being most superficial and the transverse abdominis lying the deepest.

The abdominal wall has many functions in the body – it helps to hold your internal organs in place and maintains internal pressure within the abdomen, it assists in breathing, it keeps your body stable during movement, and it flexes and rotates the body. People spend a lot of time training the abs through crunches, but are they training their core? And more importantly, why should we train our core?

The abdominals are part of the core, but they are not your entire core. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Goodman, 2004), the core musculature are all the muscles that are responsible for creating and controlling movement of the spine. That means that the muscles of the back, hips, and shoulders are also part of the core. All of these muscles connect to the spine and are therefore considered your core.

The core has several functions such as it helps to contain and protect the internal organs, protects the spine from excessive load, and transfers force between the lower body and the upper body. A properly trained core helps us to prevent injury by promoting proper movement mechanics.

Training the core is critical for protecting our back. Stability in the core allows us to move, rotate, lift, throw, or push objects while protecting the back from injury. A strong core is when all the muscles of the torso, hips and shoulders work together as a stable unit. Whether performing a lunge or a shoulder press, if your core is not stabilized, then your movement may not be performed optimally and could lead to injury.

So abdominal training and core training are similar but they are definitely different. The goal for training the abdominals for a lot of people is aesthetics …. they want the elusive six-pack abs. Abdominal definition is possible but it takes a lot of training and a lot of dieting to achieve. When working towards this goal, focus on isolating the action of each muscle group as shown in the table below.

To train the core, you need to focus on a variety of exercises that focus on functionally bracing the spine or lumbopelvic region, flexing and extending the spine, extending the hips as well as twisting or rotating the trunk. We want to train the core functionally, meaning the exercises should mimic activities of daily living. What does that mean? Let’s take a look at two different exercises: a crunch and a forearm plank. The crunch helps us develop the rectus abdominis but it is not a very functional exercise. Our abdominals work to prevent movement (injury prevention) and a crunch creates movement (flexion). The forearm plank is an excellent exercise for the core as it engages a LOT of different muscle groups and it can help to teach someone bracing techniques, which are needed to safely move throughout our day. Now – we are not saying that a crunch is a bad exercise, but if you only do crunches you are setting yourself up for injury as you may be creating an imbalance between the front and back of the body. The below table provides you with some sample exercises to include in your core workout. One thing to keep in mind is that your core should be active or braced with all of your daily activities so that we move safely and with confidence.

Be sure to check out our Core Training Classes. You can find them under Virtual Classes - Specialty Classes!


Goodman, P. J. (2004). Connecting the core. NSCA's performance training journal, 3(6), 10-14.

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