Ooooh this topic is a great one to discuss. With the fitness world at an all time high and so many methods of working out to choose from and weed through, this topic needs to be discussed. Often clients or friends will ask, "How can I 'tone' my core and have my abs pop?" The most common answer from an innocent bystander tends to be crunches and lots of them. BUT, this is NOT the answer and does much more harm than good when it comes to 'toning' the core and building a strong and functional core when it is the main or only exercise used in core training. Excess crunching and flexing of the spine puts undue stress on the back and can lead to more harm than good. Instead let's look at building a strong and functional core, a core that is ready to protect us from injury as well as aesthetically pleasing.
The core consists of many muscle groups; The Rectus Abdominis is what makes up our '6 pack' muscles. The Rectus Abdominis is responsible for flexing the Lumbar Spine. The Obliques sit on the side of the torso and help with rotation and anti-rotation. The Transverse Abdominis sits beneath the Internal Obliques and is responsible for Thoracic and Pelvic Stability. The Multifidus sits just superficial to the Spine and plays an important role in core stability. The Erector Spinae is a group of muscles that run on either side of the spine. The function of the Erector Spinae is to straighten and rotate the back.
When looking at core training, function should be looked at first. A strong, well developed core comes from many movements, not just crunches. A functional core is able to flex, extend, rotate, and resist rotation. A functional core helps to prevent injuries that may come up from sports/activities you love or from that 'just wrong' bend that commonly puts backs out for a couple days or weeks.
So, what should core training look like for function and aesthetic benefits? Below, we will look at 4 exercises that can help you get a strong and functional core. Keep in mind that there are many varieties of these exercises.
SMART CORE TRAINING
Frequency: At least 3 days per week, up to each day.
When: If you are strength training, it is advantageous to put these in your warmup to get your core engaged and activated for the work to come. If it is a rest day, there are advantages to performing at any time, so find what works best for you!
EXERCISE #1: BIRD-DOG
How to perform: Begin on all fours with shoulders over your wrists, hips over your knees. Focus on maintaining a neutral spine and hips not opening up as you extend your opposite arm and opposite leg STRAIGHT out. Hold the extended position for 1-2 seconds before performing the other arm and leg.
Sets & Reps: Perform 3 sets of 10 per side.
Muscles Used: Multifidus, Erector Spinae, Glutes
EXERCISE #2: ROCKING ELBOW PLANK
How to perform: Begin in a low plank position with shoulders over elbows and body like a board (neutral spine, hips not falling down or shooting way up). Slowly rotate one hip towards the ground, then alternate and rotate the other hip down. Focus on pulling your belly button to your spine as you do this and thinking of your obliques engaging.
Sets & Reps: Perform 3 sets of 15 per side.
Muscles Used: Transverse Abdominis, Obliques
EXERCISE #3: SIDE PLANK REACH UNDERS
How to perform: Begin in a side plank position with your shoulder over your elbow, hips stacked, and your top foot in front of your bottom foot. Then, in a controlled manner, slowly rotate your shoulder and hip towards the ground, reaching your top arm under your bottom hip. Slowly, return to the starting position and continue all reps on this side before beginning on the other side.
Sets & Reps: Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps per side.
Muscles Used: Transverse Abdominis, Obliques
EXERCISE #4: BOOK CRUNCH
How to perform: Begin by lying on your back. Throughout the entire movement, press your lower back into the ground. Hold your hands behind your ears and gaze up. Then, just like closing a book, crunch your upper body up while also drawing your knees in towards your chest.
Sets & Reps: Perform 3 sets of 20 reps.
Muscles Used: Rectus Abdominis.
In closing, core training should be well rounded, hitting all of the muscle groups, preventing injury, and supporting function as well as aesthetics. A 6 pack does not only come from these exercises, but a nutrition and conditioning plan to support your specific goals.
Keep getting after it friends.
-Why not YOU? Why not NOW?