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Let's talk about ABS

People often talk about the core as if it’s one big muscle, which is why so many people associate “core training” with just trying to carve out a six-pack. What we think of as a “six-pack” are really just a visible and defined rectus abdominis - two paired muscles that run vertically along the front of the abdomen. But your core is so much more than the muscles that make up a six-pack. It not only includes other muscles in your abdomen, but also muscles in your pelvis, hips, lower back and butt. The major muscles of your core include your transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, erector spinae, diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, and (of course) your abs, the rectus abdominis.


The core muscles are extremely important because they maintain proper posture and protect the body's inner organs. Think of a girdle that wraps around the internal organs. And to perform well at virtually any sport, you need a strong core. This is a no-brainer for rowing, golf and dancing, but it’s also true for less obvious activities: Your core gives you the stability you need to play darts, for example, and the power you need to play table tennis.


A stronger core makes everyday life easier, too, resulting in fewer injuries, better posture and balance and less back pain.


What is the core?

When we refer to the core, we are referring to several groups of muscles, not just one. We should also talk about these muscles as “movers” versus “stabilizers,” and I’ll explain what that means as we get further along.

The main components of the core are:

  • the rectus abdominis (your six-pack abs) at the front

  • the internal and external obliques on the sides

  • the transversus abdominis (the deepest abdominal muscle that wraps around your midsection horizontally)

  • the erector spinae (the rope-like muscles next to your spine)

  • the multifidus (a very deep muscle that runs along your spine)

  • the quadratus lumborum (another deep muscle in your lower back, above your hips)

  • the diaphragm (this breathing muscle is the top, or the roof, of your core)

  • the pelvic floor muscles (these make up the bottom, or floor, of your core)


Together, these muscles work to provide support and strength for your abdomen.

It can be helpful to think about the image of a barrel when thinking of your core muscles, with the diaphragm on top, the pelvic floor on the bottom, and the other muscles wrapping around the middle in various directions.


What does your core do, and why is it important?


Your core is basically what holds you upright.

It provides stability for your spine and trunk and allows for bending and moving of your spine. It aids in balance and postural support, helps prevent falls and injury, and helps produce sport-specific movements to generate torque and force.


Your core muscles can be divided into two categories, based on their functions: stabilizers and movers.


The stabilizing group (transversus abdominis, multifidi, pelvic floor muscles, and arguably, diaphragm) help maintain intra-abdominal pressure and keep you stable and strong. They don’t move or bend your body.


The erector spinae, rectus abdominus, obliques, and quadratus lumborum are the “movers.” They help you sit up, bend over, twist, bend to the side, bend backward, and more.

You need a proper balance of stability and mobility to be at your functional best. That’s because your core muscles not only generate movement for your body but also act to protect your spine and internal organs against forces outside your body, such as gravity and high impact ground reaction forces.


How do you train the muscles of the core?

Proper training of and exercise for the core isn’t only about strength. There is also core stability.


Core stability involves keeping the spine still while other limbs move around our body. Exercises such as the plank exercise, the bird-dog or the dead bug exercise where we're keeping our spine straight and our core engaged, keep the spine still while we're moving our arms for example.


THE IMPORTANCE OF STABILIZATION EXERCISES


Every time we move, we depend on some muscles to hold us steady, and other muscles to actually move us. Core stabilization is the general term for how the muscles of your trunk keep your spine and body stable. This helps you stay balanced when you move. If your core muscles are strong and they contract when they should:

  • Your posture is better.

  • Your body is balanced.

  • Your movement is more efficient and powerful.

  • You may be less likely to be injured.

Core stability benefits everyone, from older people to top professional athletes. Exercises for core stabilization can be part of every conditioning program, along with flexibility, strength, and aerobic training.


Why is core stabilization important? The spine itself is just bones stacked on top of one another, and in between the bones—to cushion them—are small discs. The core of each disc has the texture of cheese, and it is surrounded by tough fibrous tissue. To make the spine more stable, the parts are all connected with layers of soft tissue such as cartilage and ligaments. They are also connected by muscles. If these muscles are strong and working in the proper order, you have a solid base for movement and for absorbing the impact of the ground through your body.


Core stabilization strengthens the muscles of the core and helps you learn to use the inner muscles before you start to move. The focus is on stability, breathing, and smooth, coordinated movement.


The muscles of your trunk—your core—can be strengthened and trained to contract in the proper order to give you this stable foundation for movement. The benefits may include:

  • The strong, healthy feeling that comes from good posture.

  • Confidence from strength and good balance.

  • Greater strength and When it comes to training your core, there are basically TWO types of training: core stability and core strength. for your activities.

  • Less chance of injury.

  • Decrease in, or prevention of, low back pain.


Core strength is where we move the spine. Muscles that help with movement are the rectus abdominus (6 pack muscles) right down through the front of the stomach , the internal and external obliques around the side responsible for twisting and sideways movement.



SO WHY DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR CORE ISN'T YOUR GETTING STRONGER?




You’ve heard it before: Great abs are made in the kitchen. OK, but what happens when you’re eating clean and sticking to your workouts and you still aren’t seeing results?


Here’s where you might be going wrong—and how to fix it.


1. YOUR EXERCISES ARE TOO EASY

If you want different results, do something different. With any given exercise, you can make it more difficult by changing the speed, the position, the weight/load and the length of time. This keeps things more interesting. Doing the same workout over and over can get really boring and will not challenge your muscles.


Example: to make abdominal crunches more challenging, you can try one of the following:

  • do them on an exercise ball so you can go through a great range of motion

  • slow down the speed

  • hold the crunch for a longer time

  • hold a weighted plate in your hands to increase the load


Start training your abs with some weight so they can develop like your other muscle groups, and vary the rep ranges each time you train them. For instance, in one workout, perform all bodyweight exercises with a rep range of 15-30; during your next abdominal training day, lower the rep range to 8-12 and use a heavier resistance by adding a plate to your floor-based moves. Increase the difficulty as you progress.



2. YOUR ABDOMINAL EXERCISES AREN'T VARIED ENOUGH


It’s important to vary the type of core exercise you do rather than stick to one type (so, don’t only do crunches). There are tons of fun and different types of exercise and movements that target all aspects of your core.


As we said earlier, our abdominal wall is built of the rectus abdominus (the six-pack), internal and external obliques that run along the sides of your rectus abdominus, and the transverse abdominus which lies beneath the internal oblique. Like any other muscle in the body, the abdominals need to be trained from various angles and dimensions so all of them are targeted. Vary your exercises so you work each of the ways your abdominal wall functions.



3. YOU'RE FORGETTING THE REST OF YOUR BODY


Your core isn’t actually responsible to move you. Your core mostly just stabilizes your trunk while your arms carry things or while your legs move you. You can have a strong core and weak legs, but that will result in you feeling like your core is weak. Remember to strengthen those arms and legs so you core can better do its job.



4. YOU TRY TO CRUNCH THE FAT AWAY


Let me be clear: You cannot lose body fat in specific areas of your body by training that body part more often. If someone ever tells you that you'll lose your gut by performing abdominal exercises, slap that person in the face and then explain to him or her that it's impossible to control where body fat comes off your body. The only way to strip the fat from your abs is by slowly and gradually burning it off from your entire body through cardio, nutrition, and resistance training.


Unfortunately, abdominal fat is usually the last bit to come off and the first to come back. The tenacity with which abdominal fat wants to cling to your belly can make dieting and exercise discouraging. The key is consistency. It may take months or even years to uncover your abs if that's what you want, but if you stick to being smart in the kitchen, you'll eventually see results.






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