What is the most important muscle, both from a functional perspective as well as an aesthetic perspective?
Matt: I don’t think anyone is going to disagree with me when I say the muscles of your core are the most important ‘muscle’. They are many muscles, however, but the same can be said of our forearms or quads to give two examples. Your core is what enables you to stand up, walk, carry any kind of load be that a child, shopping bags or even briefcase. In short, to function physically without assistance is greatly dependent on having a strong core
Without at least an adequately functioning core your efforts in the gym will be strictly relegated to machines where you are already stabilized. Even exercises such as the bench press, where you are lying flat and seem to have no need of any core muscles, can benefit greatly from a strong core that can actively transfer the energy that you are pushing through your feet up to your upper body where the heavy lifting is literally occurring.
If you want full body strength and power then this is the link that all of your upper and lower body strength must travel through. If your core is not as strong as your legs then your squats and deadlifts will never reach their full potential. Your shoulder press or barbell rows will suffer greatly too.
As far as aesthetics is concerned I think that a great set of shoulders is what literally frames the body. In both women and men the shoulders can make or break a physique. If they are wide and powerful then the upper body taper is enhanced, the waist appears smaller and a great set of shoulders also conveys both strength and confidence. If there is one muscle that needs to be great in order to appear your best, it’s the three deltoid heads that make up your shoulders.
Colin: Wow that’s a tough one. When talking about functional I’d have to say the quads. Strong quads will give your body great power in most everything you do in life. From everything from just getting around daily to if you are an athlete in competitive sports. Even a baseball player gets most of his power from his legs, even though you are swinging the bat with your arms. Same goes with the drive of the push-off from a pitcher. Strong legs create power and strong legs start with a strong set of quads. It’s important to have a good balance with hamstrings and quads for optimal strength and to avoid injury, but since the question is only one muscle I say quads.
As far as aesthetically my opinion changes on whether it’s a woman or a man, and I doubt I’m alone in that regard. For a woman I stick with quads. There is something that always really impresses me when a woman has a great tear drop and strong-looking thighs. For men I’ve always been the most impressed with guys with a big old barrel chest. If a guy has strong thick pecs, especially when the inner chest is thick and gives that “line” down the middle, I’m always very impressed by this. Now if I have to say what looks the best on anyone regardless of gender, you can’t go wrong with a great set of abs.
Funny I was thinking with my quads answer that it was “technically” more than one muscle, but felt it was okay. You took that to a whole other level Matt! Yes hard to argue your core, but I didn’t really count it as it makes up so many different not only muscles but muscle groups. The core makes up a very large portion of the body, and is extremely important.
Dara: For function I would have to say the abdominals, specifically the transverse abdominals, aka the pelvic floor. Without a strong core you won’t be able to make much progress with any other lifts or muscles. For aesthetics I would say that depends on gender. For men I would say lats, as a wide and well-defined back really gives an athletic shape to the body. For women I would say glutes or shoulders as these are the two areas that clearly show a woman is athletic and lifts weights. Depending on the woman’s natural shape, either of these areas can serve to balance out a physique and create a better overall shape.
Colin: The other thing that comes to mind with core (or even just abs) is you can do more leg specific lifts such as squats to build big strong quads all while building a really strong core too. How many core specific workouts build strong quads?
Matt: I can’t really argue with that. Squats with your upper body as close to vertical as you can get it is an amazing core builder. So are pull ups with your core and legs held vertically and even barbell curls work your core effectively. You core is basically one big assistance muscle, with exceptions of course, so it gets worked doing most anything. That only proves the importance of the core though. Your progress in the gym will only go as far as your core strength in almost every free weight lift.
Colin: Very true. I guess the real question that comes from that is do you need to train your core specifically, or do you get enough from everything else you do in the gym? Meaning we can all agree a strong core is very important, but do you need to put a lot of effort into getting a strong core specifically to obtain it? Should you build a strong core first, or should you let everything else build your core? Hmmmmm if only there were people out there who could debate such a topic!
Round 1: The best fat loss method
Round 2: Fasted vs fed cardio for fat loss
Round 5: The best 3 exercises
Round 6: The ideal training program
Round 7: How much protein for fat loss
Round 8: The last 10 pounds
Round 9: The ultimate training split
Round 10: Do carbs or fats make you fat?
Round 15: Are cheat meals good or bad?
Round 16: The fastest way to get six pack abs?
Round 17: The most effective exercise sequence
Round 18: Is cardio necessary?
Round 19: IIFYM vs clean eating
Round 20: Newbie mistakes and advice