What’s the best core exercise to get a six pack? Does this ab gadget work the way is say’s it does? Should I do any twisting motions in my core workout? Will sit ups make me lose this gut? So and so says not to work my core at all, do I need to?
These are all questions that I hear all the time. Honestly, for most people these questions are misplaced at best and flat out dangerous at worst. This article should shed some light on core training for both performance and aesthetics.
For the past ten years, the importance of core work has become more widely recognized amongst those trying to get fit. In response to this, we’ve had an avalanche of opinions on core workouts that can never seem to agree with each other. Add to the mix our intense want (need) to lose belly fat and exercises like the sit up have become more controversial than US politics.
Today I want to start to help you get to the bottom of it (like you haven’t heard that before, right?)
The core or lumbo-pelvic-hip complex is one of the most intricate systems in the human body. The core is made up of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, the 29 muscles that attach to it, the thoracic and cervical spine, and quite a bit of fascia and connective tissue. For everything to have proper alignment the muscles must be strong enough to support you, have correct length-tension relationships, have right recruitment patterns, and they must be properly aligned with your joints.
most of us don’t need to know everything about our anatomy to have a good, productive workout, I find it important to know enough to decipher the garbage information that constantly bombards us.
First thing you have to know is that there are two functions of the core that are each important:
- To stabilize the body (distributing weight, absorbing force, transferring ground-reaction forces, and providing a base of support for proper movement, acceleration, and deceleration.)
- Movement (twisting, side to side, and front to back)
To accommodate these two functions, you have two sets of systems.
Note: don’t worry about memorizing the next bit of information.
For stabilization you have the transversus abdominis, internal obliques, lumbar multifidus, pelvic floor muscles, diaphragm, and the transversospinalis.
For movement you have the lats, erector spinae, hip flexors (iliopsoas), hamstrings, hip adductors (adductor longus, brevis, magnus, gracilis, pectineus) the hip abductors (the gluteus minimus, medeus, TLF), the rectus abdominis, and the external obliques.
There are also several muscles such at the gluteus maximus that can be classified as both a mover and a stabilizer.
The reason why there is so much controversy regarding core training is because many people ignore the simple fact that that the core has these two distinct purposes. Yes, everyone should be doing core training, but if you can’t stabilize yourself or you have muscle imbalances, you have no business repetitively twisting and bending your spine or throwing heavy medicine balls around until you make corrections. That means lots of stretching and stability work.
I won’t go into stretching too much here except to say that most of us are under chronic hip flexion from too much sitting and need to stretch our hip flexors and hamstrings.
Stabilization exercises typically require no spine movement. The most common of these exercises would be planks and vacuums. Many of you are familiar with planks so I won’t go into that but if you aren’t, a quick YouTube search will catch you up to speed.
Vacuums I will describe as they may be harder to find. The vacuum is a simple breathing exercise. Take a deep breath into your belly and then push it out by pulling your belly button toward spine (don’t bend your spine). Once you’ve pulled your stomach in as far as you can, hold it for 8-10 seconds. For added difficulty, take rapid fire shallow breaths while holding your abs in but stop if you feel dizzy or faint. Do 10 reps for 2-3 sets.
Vacuums sound simple but please don’t discount them. They are important and very effective at working your transversus abdominis. They are the only exercise I know of that can tighten up your midsection by pulling in the muscles. It still won’t burn the fat on top though so don’t get too excited.
Once you get good at vacuums they can be done while in the plank or in the “cat vomiting” pose that Tim Ferriss describes in The 4-Hour Body, for added benefit.
While it may be tempting to pass this phase up and instead load up on tons of crunches and twists and leg lifts, I implore you not to. Doing so will only lead to greater structural imbalances, subpar strength gains, and back pain/injury. If your core isn’t stable, you’ll never see your max potential and you’ll always have little nags that affect your training even if you are fortunate enough to avoid injury. On top of that, you can kiss any chance of flat abs goodbye. Your stabilizers are your foundation and without those, your house of cards won’t get very high.
The good news is it only takes 1-2 months to build a proper foundation and once it’s built, you will be able to work harder and more efficiently than ever before, resulting in better results than ever before.
Need more reasons? How about appearance? Having a properly aligned body makes just makes your appearance better. You’ll fit into your clothes better and even out of your clothes it will make it look like you’ve added muscle and removed fat. If you have slumped over shoulders, overly arched back or tucked butt, your head’s not resting over shoulders, your feet are flaring out, and you knees are buckling in even great body composition won’t make you look fit and healthy.
Oh, as far as the questions I started this article with, there is no best ab exercise for getting a six pack, no that gadget won’t give you the results it claims, no sit ups won’t help you slim down, yes you should do core exercises as described above, and twisting is an incredibly important piece of the exercise puzzle as long as you do it correctly and your body is ready for it.
Until next time,
PS: Please show some Facebook love below.