Core Strengthening – It's About More Than Getting A Six-Pack

It seems most people these days do core exercises for one of two reasons: to eliminate excess stomach fat or to obtain the elusive “six-pack” abs look.  Unfortunately, the logic behind these two reasons for doing core exercises is somewhat misguided, and here’s why:

  • Core specific exercises like crunches, sit-ups, and planking don’t promote weight loss around the mid-section.  Excess fat is always burned in the reverse order from how it’s gained.  If a person stores excess fat around the abdomen first, then that fat will be the last to be burned.
  • The best ways to burn excess fat are: improving the quality of food consumed (no refined or processed foods), reducing total calories consumed, doing exercises that boost the metabolism like HIIT and strength training, and reducing unhealthy stress on the mind and body.  
  • While having a six-pack might look good by our culture’s standards, it doesn’t necessarily coincide with have a strong overall core.  The core muscles consist of far more than just the abdominal muscles, and all of the core muscles should be strengthened in a balanced fashion for optimum fitness.  
Although doing endless crunches or sit-ups to lose excess body fat or to get a six-pack isn’t the best fitness plan, there are a number of good reasons to strengthen your core, some of them include:
  • Improved posture and confidence
  • Less back ache from sitting and lifting
  • Better balance
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved comfort in the performance of daily house duties
The core is the crucial link between the upper and lower body, upon which all strength and balance hinge.  The best exercises for strengthening the core activate as many of the core muscles as possible (located in the abdomen, back, pelvis, sides, and buttocks), not just the abs.  I recommend integrating some of the exercises below into your daily workout schedule.  It will take some experimentation to figure out what routines work best for you.  Also, keep in mind, they should not cause excess pain or discomfort.
 
Planking engages all of the core muscles in the back and abdomen area.  Example routine – Plank for 45 secs, then do 12 oblique raises on each side, repeat two more sets of the same.
 
Squats and lunges require stabilizing muscles and target the core muscles in the pelvis and buttocks.  Beginners – perform with body weight only (try three sets of 15 with 45 secs of rest in between each set).  Intermediate and advance – perform with dumbbell, barbell, or kettle ball weight.  For advance and intermediate athletes, dead lifts are another very effective exercise that build strength in the core and the entire posterior chain.
 
Exercise Ball workouts require stabilization, promote improved balance, and activate all of the core muscles.  Some good core workouts include:
  • Leg tuck: Place your hands on the ground in a push-up position, and place the top of your shins on the exercise ball.  Use your legs to roll the ball towards your arms, then roll the ball back.  
  • Trunk twist: Place your feet flat on the ground and lean/sit against the ball with your lower back.  Clasp your hands together and extend your arms straight up, perpendicular with your body.  Then twist your arms from side to side, twisting as far to each side as possible.
  • Modified plank: Lay over the ball on your stomach with your hands and feet touching the ground on opposites sides and the bottom of your toes touching the ground.  Proceed to lift your upper body up off the exercise ball, with you arms straight out in a flying position.  Hold elevated position for several seconds, then return to the starting position. (For any of the above exercise ball workouts, start by trying to perform three sets of ten repetitions) 

Don’t have an exercise ball?  Get one here.

If you want to get a stronger core and washboard abs, don’t give up the sit-ups and crunches completely, just remember that by themselves they won’t fully strengthen the core or promote excess fat loss.  Functional fitness requires dynamic movements and full body engagement.  Also, if your goal is to burn excess fat, ab-specific exercises aren’t your best bet.  Focus on eating healthy, staying active, and exercising smarter, not necessarily harder!

Originally posted 2013-01-22 20:49:00.

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