We are often mislead when it comes to training our core – It is common knowledge that we should do countless crunches and situps in order to get a strong and healthy midsection. As many of you already know though, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Training the abs by flexion (crunching and all bending over movements) is far from ideal for strengthening the core and letting it carry out its primary function…..
The most important role of the abs is to Protect the Spine – Lou Schuler
This is the truth, our core has one main function and that is to protect our spine from injury. The spine is vital for function and therefore needs all the protection it can get from the abdominal’s, and lower back muscles. When we train the core just with crunches we are solely focusing on the Rectus Abdominal (the six-pack) and neglecting the deeper muscles and lower back.
This leaves all the deeper muscles that do the real hard work lagging behind and not being able to excel in their function of protecting the spine. Sure neglecting these muscles and focusing on the exterior abdominal muscles may make the abs stick out and ‘look good’ but at the expense of your core health – when these muscles grow too much they encourage bad posture and exasperate the already hunched postures most people already have from excess sitting and bending over….
In order to achieve true core health and have functional muscles that can save us from injury, improve performance and posture we need to train the abs deeply via the following methods:
– Stabilisation: These would be basic exercises like the plank, side plank and pretty much anything else that forces your core to contract and stabilize the body. Try and do 60-90 seconds of stabilization work a few times a week, ideally try to work your way up to a 3 minute hold (it is hard but guarantees a very strong and injury free core)
– Dynamic Stabilisation: This is similar to normal stabilization exercises but encompasses some sort of dynamic (moving) element. Things like Ab Roll Outs using swiss ball or ab roller (See Below) or pullovers and even things like negative chin ups. These all make your core contract and stabilize on a deep level while throwing in some sort of movement which challenges the core further as it needs to keep in alignment. See the video below ab roll outs…..
If you can encompass both of these methods into your training you will build and impressive midsection that is strong from the inside out, not the outside in. This will protect you from injury, solve lower back pain and make you stronger in other lifts.
There is no harm in doing a few sets of crunches and working the abs in a more traditional way as the exterior muscles are useful for certain people especially those competing in sports like MMA and boxing who need strength when crouching over and receiving blows to the abdomen. For the general population though, a mix of stabilization training methods is more than enough and will develop an upright posture.
I suggest either doing your core training at the start of your training or on a dedicated day. Many people try to do planks and similar exercises when exhausted after lifting weights/training. This is far from optimal as the muscles will be pre-fatigued and you will not be able to get the most out of the exercise, As I mentioned in the SWITCH post training abs first has worked well for myself and clients – even though it goes against common knowledge.
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