Often confused for one and the same, your abs and core are and do different things. Generally speaking, what you would refer to as abs is made up of your rectus abdominis (the top layer that creates the 6 pack appearance), transverse abdominis (deep muscles that wrap around stomach) and obliques (run either side the rectus abdominis). These muscles are primarily worked by flexing the spine – think sit ups and crunches. The core on the other hand includes these muscles as well as the erector spinae, multifidus, pelvic floor, QL, glutes and diaphragm. When the muscles of the core work together they stabilize spine, maintain posture, and help generate movement.
Strong abs don’t necessarily mean a strong core, while creating strong abs is great, by focussing solely on the abdominal wall in the hope of getting that 6 pack you’ve always dreamed of you risk creating imbalances throughout the body. It is important to incorporate exercises to strengthen both your abs and core so that they can work together to keep the body stable and strong through different planes of motion. To do this you will need to include a range of exercises that include flexing the spine (sit ups, crunches etc), extending the spine (back extensions, supermans), extending the hips (glute bridges and hip thrusts), rotational movements (woodchops, Russian twists) and isometric exercises (staying still – plank variations).
Core strength allows you to move more efficiently and effectively. Without a strong and stable core simple tasks such as being able to get up and down from/to the floor, standing up from a chair, cleaning the house, working in the garden or even sitting comfortably at a desk will become more difficult and potentially painful. So make sure you train the core as a whole and don’t just focus on the 6 pack alone, with proper training and nutrition the 6 pack will come and you’ll have a solid core to go with it!
Hibbs, A.E., Thompson, K.G., French, D., Wrigley, A., & Spears, I. (2008). Optimizing Performance by Improving Core Stability and Core Strength. Sports Medicine, 38(12), 995-1008.
Kibler, B., Press, Joel., & Sciascia., A. (2006). The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function. Sports Medicine, 36(3), 189-198.