We know abs are made in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter how much core work you do if you eat poorly chances are you will not get the abs you desire. What is it you actually want? Is it a flat stomach with a defined six pack? Or, are you looking for a stronger core because you have lower back issues? Whatever your goal, there is a proper way to train the “core”.
Many people think of a toned and defined stomach when they hear “core”. But the core is much deeper than this, literally. The past trend in the fitness industry is to do lots of crunches and sit-ups to get the stomach of your dreams. This method focuses solely on the rectus abdominins or the “6 pack muscle”. What is this muscle good for besides those bumps that pop out of your stomach? Flexion of the spine. That’s the purpose of this muscle. Now, if I told you to go bend a pool noodle repeatedly the same direction over and over for years how do you think that noodle will eventually look? It’s going to be bent in a big C shape. This can happen to your body as well if you do repetitive sit-ups or improper crunches over time, without doing complimentary exercises that extend the spine.
Is that the shape you looking for? We must also consider what you do daily. Are you sitting the majority of the day at a desk? If so, your hips will be tight as well from sitting all day. Doing sit-ups actively engages the hip flexors and tightens them even more. Did you know tight hip flexors commonly lead to back pain? That being said, doing crunches and sit-ups will strengthen the “6 pack muscle” but this serves no purpose to strengthening your back.
How can you strengthen your back and your core while maintaining a long lean stomach? Simple, keep your spine in a neutral alignment or basically keep a straight back by doing planks, side planks, v sits etc. Exercises such as these will keep your spine healthy as well as strengthen your deep core muscles that actually wrap around your body and connect to the spine. Therefore, if you strengthen these muscles they will strengthen your back and your spine and will not over tighten your hips when done correctly.
A few tips to keep in mind when doing core training:
1) Try to maintain a neutral spine whenever possible.
2) You can still do crunches just make sure you are not engaging your hip flexors when you do them and avoid full sit-ups when possible.
3) Train the opposing muscles as well. If you do crunches or sit-ups once in a while then do exercises that engage the glutes, low back and hamstrings as well.
4) Train multiple muscle groups together. When doing planks, you use your stomach, your glutes, your quads and much more. Stick to exercises that use many muscles in unison.
5) When doing v sits, use a soft ball behind your back to help disengage your hip flexors.
Today’s action: Limit any crunches or sit-ups to one exercise in your routine, if any. Add in more stabilization exercises such as v sits, plank and side planks.
Watch for our next blog for a great core workout!
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