I’m a nutrition consultant at a local fitness studio, and for the last few months I’ve been partnering with two of the head trainers to offer workshops.
The first one we offered was on the core- how do you get the illusive six pack?
Not surprisingly, the room was packed every time! Why is this such a hot topic right now? If we did a workshop on 6 ways to live healthier, longer, I don’t think anyone would come, ha!
I covered the nutrition component (which is estimated to be 70% of the equation). But I also loved the trainer’s segment and it was shocking how many people are training the core the wrong way.
What’s the problem with traditional core exercises?
Research shows that repeated crunches can cause damage. The repeated flexion motion creates a lot of force on the spine and over time can cause damage and lead to larger problems and disc injuries.
There are also risks associated with the Superman exercise and Russian twists- this article explains the way they break down your spine.
What should you do instead?
Functional core movements are key. Functional exercises include the whole body as one connected, moving part that mimic movements you need and use in daily life. Squats are a great example of a functional move. They mimic the sitting and standing motion that we use daily while also engaging many muscles and core stability.
The core does not need to be isolated to be strengthened. Movements like squats with a press, walking lunges with a bicep curl, kettle bell swings and push ups work the whole body while keeping the spine and neck neutral to protect the spine.
If you are looking to isolate the core, aim for anti- gravity, anti-twist moves which resist the curl or resist the twist while strengthening the core.
Start with the plank. There is no need to hold it as long as possible. Instead, hold it, squeezing your abs and glutes as hard as you can for ten seconds. Drop and rest and repeat 8-12 times.
Incorporate all sorts of plank variations to keep it interesting such as tapping one foot at a time or hold side planks to work the oblique muscles.
Then build to anti-rotational moves that do not require your torso to twist.
Planks can become an anti-rotational move when you add a shoulder touch with the opposite hand.
Single leg deadlifts, a single arm inverted row or plank with a row are great ways to build in the anti-rotational moves.
Find more anti-rotational moves with images here.
Roll out moves are another excellent way to keep the spine neutral and prevent injury while building a strong core.
Roll out moves can be done on a ball (to begin) or with an ab wheel (more advanced).
More advanced athletes can also use kettle bell swings to work the core.
Most importantly, these exercises emphasize functional whole body movements over isolating one body part. This keeps the body in better muscular balance and minimizes risk of injury while still strengthening the core.
Building in these exercises 2-3 times per week can be sufficient. There is no need to do core work every single day.
Were you aware of the dangers of sit ups or any kind of curing ab move?
Do you perform isolated core exercises or do you prefer full body functional movements?