Crunches, sit ups, and planks.
Ask the average gym goer how they intend to sculpt their midsection, and you’ll usually get one, two, or all three of these movements as a response.
I’m not sure when spinal flexion and stationary bracing got a monopoly on our core training, but, if we’re serious about building a strong and functional midsection, we should probably do something about it.
So, within this blog, we’ll give you the better way to train your abs…
Making sure we stress your core through every functionality it possess, instead of just the ones that have (mostly due to Rocky films I reckon) risen to the top of the proverbial heap.
But first, we should probably address the elephant in the room…
You will not see your abs, if you have a layer of fat covering them.
This however, isn’t a blog that’s going to harp on about how to lose body fat (that information can be found here: 5 ‘Easy’ Ways To Burn More Calories And Lose Body Fat).
And honestly, you don’t need to see your abs, in order to be healthy.
Having a strong core however, whether visible or not, will provide you with these two massive benefits:
1) Reduced risk of injury (especially due to increased spinal stability)
2) Improved sports performance (although not limited to sports e.g if you want to carry a heavy box or help a friend move some furniture? A strong core is needed).
So whether your aspirations are to attract admiring glances whenever you don your swimming attire at the beach, OR to simply function better as a healthy human being? You need to be tackling your core training in an intelligent manner.
So, now we know ‘why’, the next question, is ‘how’?
Again, a caveat (I do enjoy a caveat):
Your core is engaging whenever your body isn’t fully supported. For example, when you’re walking along the street, your core is partially responsible for keeping you upright.
This engagement is multiplied many times when you begin to handle external weights.
Remember we spoke about needing a strong core to help your friend move furniture around? That’s because your core plays a role in keeping your entire body from falling apart, whilst it’s controlling external load.
So, whether we’re training your core directly or not, it’s going to come into play whilst we’re in the gym.
Some people may read that and think “man, I don’t need to train my abs, I’m doing it already!”.
That, I’m afraid, isn’t the case.
Whilst larger, multi-joint exercises, (such as squat and deadlift variations) tend be at the heart of your training programme, most people have woefully underdeveloped core muscles.
We can blame long periods of sitting down and a general sedentary western lifestyle for that one.
So, in order to prevent injury whilst performing the larger exercises that will prompt greater fat loss and muscle growth?
We’re going to need to isolate our core.
“Ok, ok, quit rambling! How do we do it?”
I did carry on a bit there, didn’t I?
Ok, let’s get to the meat of the topic.
Your core training needs to address 3 separate planes of movement.
Anti-lateral flexion &
Great, so that’s clear then?
Enjoy your training!
I’m kidding- we’ll now delve into what, exactly, those terms mean, and how you can ensure you have a well rounded core training system.
An ‘anti-extension’ exercise refers to any movement where you’re actively resisting the extension of your spine.
One such example, would be The Deadbug
- Lie on your back with your arms pointing into the air, in front of your shoulders (like a zombie)
- Bring your knees towards your chest so they’re directly in front of your hips, and flexed at a right angle (as though you’re sitting on an imaginary chair). This is your starting position
- Make sure your back is flush against the floor, and extend your right arm backwards, so your shoulder will end up next to your ear, and you’re pointing backwards
- At the same time, extend your left leg outwards, so it is an inch or two off the floor
- Ensure you’re engaging your core, and exhaling as your allow your arm and leg to move away from the central position
- Bring your arm and leg back to the starting position slowly, before repeating on the other side
- DO NOT RUSH, each ‘rep’ should take 3-6 seconds
Other possible Anti-extension exercises:
- Roll Outs
- Vertical Cable Press
‘Anti-lateral flexion’ refers to an exercise where your core has to engage in order to keep your from bending in half sideways.
Ever carried a super heavy bag in one hand, and nothing in the other? Your core would have been firing in this exact way to keep your upright.
And, conveniently enough, that’s the exact style of exercise I recommend people start with, to begin improving this facet of the cores functionality:
Single Arm Weighted Carries
- Grab a dumbbell in one hand (start light as you get used to the form, then increase once you’re confident with it)
- Stand upright, ensuring you aren’t bending towards either side
- Engage your core, and slowly walk forwards for a set distance or time
- DO NOT RUSH, and make sure you don’t accidentally begin to tilt towards (or away from) the weight
- Oh, and make sure you complete the exercise on both sides
Other possible Anti-lateral flexion exercises:
- Waiters walks
- Suitcase Deadlifts
As the more astute of you will have probably assumed, this refers to any exercise where your core is actively engagement to avoid rotation at the torso.
If you happen to play any rugby or other contact sports, this is vital for avoiding injuries.
The Pallof Press
- Set up a cable machine at chest height (starting light and moving up once form is mastered)
- Grab the handle, and walk 1-2 feet away from the machine, so there’s tension on the cable
- Hold the handle with two hands directly in front of your chest, with your elbows tucked in
- Engage your core, and slowly extend your arms outwards, away from your chest, but at an angle that keeps the exact same tension on the cable
- Ideally, you don’t want the weight plate to move whatsoever during the rep (so as your arm extends fully outwards, your core is having to work to resist your upper body rotating towards it)
- Slowly bring the handle back to your chest, reset you breath, and repeat for the set amount of reps on each side
Other possible Anti-rotation exercises:
- Kneeling Pallof Presses
- Banded Pallof presses
“Does this need to be all in one workout? And what about my crunches and planks?!”
The functionality, and movements necessarily to address them we’ve discussed today are the under-utilised features of the core.
The functions that people forget about, and therefore remain woefully underdeveloped.
Yes, you can still crunch (although not to excess, or overly loaded), and yes, planks can still have their place. (Find out how to perform the perfect plank here)
But, by addressing the areas that others forget?
By taking the time to add in a few sets a week on each new movement pattern?
You’ll set yourself up for a reduced risk of injury, improved strength potential, and therefore, a greater chance of hitting your health and fitness goals.
We understand it can be difficult to know if you’re exercising correctly, safely, and using the best exercises for your unique body. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do to help with this, you are welcome to book in for your complimentary consultation here at the studio. You can do so by clicking the button below.