Helping Clients Visualize the Core

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then picture how efficient it can be to describe a training concept or even anatomical system in simple visual terms. Take, for example, “the core”.

Even many people who don’t think of themselves as “visual thinkers”, when put to it, find that images can aid expedite comprehension and aid retention and recall. So when explaining something like “the core”, which for most clients isn’t something they read about in health textbooks, it can be useful to compare this group of muscles in terms that are at least somewhat familiar to most adults.

What It Is

As the name suggests, the body’s core is its center. It is what keeps the body in a straight, vertical position. It is, in effect, the foundation of all limb movement. The core includes all of the muscles of the torso including those of the back and abdominals.

What It’s Good For

The muscles of the core are used for both stabilization and movement. Having a stabilization system that is strong enables us to use our strength and power in other parts of the body more efficiently and effectively. Training the core has been demonstrated to reduce injuries across a spectrum of activities, from the everyday to the athletic. Core training also prevents injury, improves posture, and in general lends a tighter overall look. What’s not to like?

Muscles become stronger when they are challenged. Because training should involve the entire body, all major muscle groups should be addressed during strength training, including core muscles (abdominal muscles, back muscles, muscles of the shoulder and hip). This is of course, where it is up to the trainer to develop a workout regime.

What Does It Look Like?

The foregoing descriptions are enough to conjure up for many people some images, albeit vague ones. But can it any of it be likened to things we can observe every day?

Perhaps the most straightforward and accurate real world comparison is that the core operates as a muscular “corset,” working in unified way to stabilize the spine. Authors Akuthota and Nadler describe the core as a “box” in the mid-section of the body, with the abdominals in the front, the paraspinals next to the spine and the gluteals in the back.1 In this visualization, the diaphragm is the top and the pelvic floor and hip girdle muscles are at the bottom.

Here’s another “visual” involving the core: The thoracolumbar fascia is a deep investing membrane that covers the deep muscles of the back of the trunk. In essence, it provides a link between the lower limb and the upper limb. With contraction of the musculature it cover, the thoracolumbar fascia acts as an activated proprioceptor, similar to the way a back belt can furnish feedback during lifting activities.

How about another example? Muscular cocontraction through the thoracodorsal fascia yields active stability, similar to the support that guy ropes provide to a tent tied down against the wind. In this visual metaphor, the center pole represents the spine, the guy ropes represent the abdominals, and the canvas represents the thoracodorsal fascia.

And so on.

Weak core muscles make for inefficient movements in the short term, and chronic pain and other injuries in the long term. This can hinder a client’s ability to progress in other areas. Developing a program that involves the core muscles will help a client progress to more advanced exercises, but it will help clients to be functionally fit. By incorporating such components into their training regime, clients will gain balance, stability, and strength.

Because integrating core and balance training can be integrated in a number of ways with other workouts, it’s important to balance creativity with safety.

As an educator, it is incumbent on the trainer to find ways of connecting oftentimes complex concepts with real world practices. The core is just one example. There are plenty more out there — visualize them! The use of visual metaphors is not without its limitations, but it can be a most useful tool when looking to quickly and effectively explain training and anatomical concepts.


1. Akuthota, Venu, and Scott F. Nadler. “Core strengthening.” Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 85 (2004): 86-92

2. Benjamin, Mike. “The fascia of the limbs and back-a review.” Journal of anatomy 214.1 (2009): 1-18.

3. Porterfield JA, DeRosa C. Mechanical low back pain: perspectives in functional anatomy. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders; 1998.

4. Willardson JM. Core stability training: applications to sports conditioning programs. J Strength Condition Res. 2007;21(3):979-985


These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.