The pure mention of the abreviation for the abdominal musculatures brings about superficial and anxious feelings of the consistently mentioned and seemingly unachievable "six pack of the gods". Well let's step aside for a second, and treat the core musculatures they way a woman should be treated (brownie points for me!); by personality before appearance. By personality, I mean the way the core musculatures function. This is not meant to be an anatomy lesson, but rather change the way you think about core training. We will talk about current training pitfalls as well as how to REALLY train the thing that hold you all together; the core.
- "CRUNCHES FOR BREAKFAST!" : This is the most common piece of advice you will get regarding 'core training' from the average gym enthuisast. But there is so much more to the core than simply crunches. While they do work the spinal flexion action of the rectus abdominus (the abs) as well as the other hip and spinal flexors, performing only this exercise to train your core is like constraining a Bengal Tiger in a cage! Your core does WAY more than one action in a supine (on your back) position. Don't dismiss the movements involved in crunches, but it's time to think outside the box. Not to mention to much repetitive action on the spine can lead to detrimental neuromuscular and spinal health.
- "Train your abs everyday!" : I'll make this one quick. You should only use your abdominals as much as you would work out every other muscle. For the sake of recovery, performance, and injury prevention, optimal rest for the abs is just as important for anything else.
- "Crunch as fast as possible!" : Exercise tempo is whole other story, but here are the basics. Slow and controlled = stability and more aerobic emphasis (the core is mostly type 1 or aerobic fibers anyway due to their function of posutral control). Fast and powerful = less controlled but greater performance yield (if power is required in performance) as well as more caloric output (only because higher intensity training yields a high calorie burn, assuming this is the case in your workouts). Rule of thumb: DO NOT break your spine trying twist a medicine ball back and forth before building up a stable foundation, as is the trend for all movements.
Okay, now that those pet peeves are out of the way, let us discuss the truths about the core.
- The core is the muscles of your front torso, back torso, and the LPHC (lumbo-pelvic hip complex). Definitions of the "global core" include the core being anything your limbs attach to. I would tend to agree with the latter. Our bodies move as one, and it is a beautiful thing that is not to be "cut up" and looked at as isolated muscle actions. An easy way to think of the core is mostly everything a one-piece swim suit cover, especially the GLUTES!!! The LPHC mentioned above refers to lumbar spine inserting into the hips, in which the glutes and other hip muscles are heavily involved. THEY are also the core, and important players at that.
- ALL Movements are CORE Movements: This is the one TRUTH I would like you to take away from this post. Place your hand on your abdominals, glutes and/or lower back muscles. Start reaching with your hands above, below, side to side, in a twisting motion, behind and in front of you. FEEL how the core components react and move with you. Try the same with stepping in front, in back, and to the side. Once again feel the core move and react with every slight movement (even BEFORE it happens!!!). You can tell I am excited about this discovery for your because it is beautiful and complex, yet comforting to know that your core is working for you in all movements....assuming you read below on how to properly activate it first.
- The Foundation: The Transverse Abdominus (TVA). This muscle plays a large role in stabilization of the other core musculatures and is often the culprit of lower back pain and core dysfunction. Training the TVA is important for a truly strong core. The most common way is to lay down "draw in" the navel towards the spine and brace the core as if preparing to be jabbed in the stomach or pick up a heavy box. Diaphragmatic breathing also is a big help. Another tool to visually measure TVA activation is this pressure-based feedback mechanism right here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0010L48YC/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1. Once you feel you can progress to other exercises, try the ones in my Game Changing Core Exercises video on http://www.glattfitness.com
- Now that all of the basics are out of the way, use your newfound knowledge and core activation techniques next time you go to the gym. Every repetition of lunge, lat pulldown, chest press, pull up, push up, shoulder press, and even cardio exercises should involve healthy core movement and stabilization. Once you start activiating the core during these movements, defined abdominals and healthy movement is right within your reach.