Lexie Williamson journeys to the centre of the ‘core’ debate

Us yogis like segmenting the body into neat sections, a bit like those old-fashioned butcher’s diagrams. No, I’m not talking about brisket, rump or sirloin but ‘today we’re going to work on the shoulders…hamstrings….feet etc.’

Every few months I do a ‘core’ class and confidently announce it at the beginning as thus. But I have been wondering lately if the core actually exists at all.

Firstly, there’s an issue of identification. When you say the word ‘core’ many students automatically think ‘abs’. They will probably narrow this down even more in their mind’s eye to rectus abdominis, or the famous bumpy six-pack.

But this front section of the core is a mere bit player. The core is better thought of as one of those particularly uncomfortable curved, ribbed Victorian corsets.

It not only wraps around the waist covering the lower back, side ‘obliques’ and intercostal muscles between the ribs, but also encompasses the pelvic floor and glutes or buttocks.

My other issue with the terminology is that in yoga and Pilates much of what we do strengthens the core, even when we’re not trying to.

For example, take a few random poses: Tree, Shoulderstand and Triangle. None come under the ‘core’ category but all force these muscles into a stabilising role.

If you never laid flat on your back on the mat and raised and lowered alternate legs, or did Boat pose, would your core suffer? Controversial.

There’s a small movement of anti-core (‘The Core Myth’) feeling in the sports science world which is slowly gaining momentum. “Apples have cores, cyclists don’t,” states British Cycling’s lead physiotherapist Phil Burt.

Some of British Cycling’s strengthening exercises are indeed mat-based floor techniques, like Plank, but the rest are standing techniques such as lunges and squats.

But this is partly why I love yoga. It is already the ultimate whole body activity – so-called ‘core’ included.

We are not interested in compartmentalising body parts by, say, sitting on a leg press gym machine and isolating the quads.

The entire body is involved, from the tips of the fingers down to the toes spread on the mat and everything in between.

So, will I stop using the term ‘core’? Probably not. It’s a useful shorthand (and, let’s face it, I make a good living out of the core).

But I suspect one day we’ll drop this catch-all term altogether; roll out the butcher’s diagram, sharpen our pencils and rethink how we refer to the midsection of the body.

Until then, let’s tackle a really serious subject…like if indeed apples have cores, apparently that’s a myth too.

Lexie Williamson is a yoga teacher and health and fitness writer (pulseyoga.co.uk)


Leave a Comment