Monday, May 6, 2013

CORE = ABS...An Incomplete Equation

Core training: A now almost essential part of many individuals’ training schedule.  A strong and stable core can prevent injury not only to the spine but also prevent injury to the rest of the body through stabilization. 
Let’s take a look at the core and core training more closely and along the way dispel a few misconceptions that the media and the random person at the gym, spewing “helpful tips”, have created.

       1.   First off, your abdominals (abs) are NOT your core.  They are part of the core, a large network of muscles that help stabilize not only your spine and torso, but your entire body while in motion and while stable.  Focusing on isolation exercises like crunches will only strengthen part of your core.  Furthermore the muscles of the core do not act in isolation so doing only crunches or ab exercises for core strengthening would be an incomplete way to train your core.

    2.    Core training is NOT about balance boards/wobble boards.  Stability training is helpful for patients needing to reactivate stabilizing muscles after injuries, but for someone who has not had any injuries that prevent activation of stabilizing musculature this is an incorrect way to train.  Trying to stabilize on an unstable surface is not going to create greater stability.  You are essentially adding instability to instability. The muscles and body need to adapt and stabilize on a stable surface.

3.      Core activation has been popularized in the media for “greater” benefits.  However the core is not something that should be activated all the time, the goal would be rather to have a core that has very little activation throughout our daily movements. A core that is active all the time means that the body is very unstable. This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but if we think about it, it would not make sense for a person to be doing a simple action or exercise with large amounts of core muscle activation. This would be like your body struggling and shaking while walking, the less your core has to activate, the more stability there is to the body.

4.      Core training is NOT only about bodyweight exercises.  Once the body adapts to movements there is little to no adaptation.  Adding in functional movements with unconventional training like sandbags, kettle bell movements, and parachute sprints can ensure that the body is always adapting and continues to improve.  This is a principle called progressive overload.

5.      Core strength is NOT only about slow movements.  Life does not consist of slow movements all the time.  Life and sports are explosive and you must train the core to transfer forces efficiently, not only in slow movements. You must incorporate more dynamic movements to supplement your workout. Exercises such as medicine ball throws, and elastic band snap downs are a couple of examples.

6.      Core strength is NOT possible without attention to breathing!  Regulating your breathing patterns plays an important role in stabilizing the torso during any type of movement. “Bracing” is very important in weight training and power exercises such as the Olympic lifts. This is very important for all sports as they ALL require fast and powerful movements.

7.      Core strength is NOT only about the muscles you can see!  If you are just working on your “six pack abs” you will be missing many muscles that lie underneath (transverse abdominus, external and internal obliques)

8.      Core strength is NOT about doing high volume sets! "I do 300 crunches, 400 crunches, 1000 crunches a day, to maintain my six pack!" Realistically, if you want a "six pack", you need to be more focused on overall nutrition. And if you want core strength, you need to build up the core musculature comprehensively, i.e., both the anterior (front) chain and the posterior (rear) chain with compound exercises. Let me ask you a question. If you can do 300, 400 or 1000 crunches, how hard can they be? You should focus on good quality exercises executed with proper form and focus on tension throughout the movement. This means a core-specific movement or compound movements should be incorporated with control (proper bracing) through the entire range of motion. Explosive core movements, such as medicine ball throws, can be added once an individual has shown proficiency with the basic movement patterns.

9.      Core strength is NOT developed by always wearing a weight belt.  In fact you will be doing yourself more harm than good by always wearing a weight belt.  Belts are a great tool. A great tool to make you weak! Belts should only be used when needed, as in 1 rep max, not all of the time. If you are loading above 85%+ of the lifter or athlete’s one rep max (referred to as 1RM), a belt can then be used. Note: The 1RM is the absolute or total amount the lifter can lift in the respective exercise.  

Our bodies naturally create intra-abdominal pressure to lift heavy objects and perform movements quickly and powerfully through the core muscles. The transversus abdominis (transverse abdominis) is the body's natural weightlifting belt that stabilizes the spine and pelvis as you lift objects.  This muscle strengthens as you lift without a belt. If you use a belt you are training your body to not produce this intra-abdominal pressure on its own, leading to injuries when there is no weight belt present to provide that pressure. This can lead to hernias, and lower back injuries that can be pretty serious.

10  Core strength is NOT about "six pack abs"

Strongman competitors are some of the strongest people in the world and all have varying degrees of leanness in the abdominal area, in a sport where a strong core is THE most essential component to a competitor.

As stated, just because you’re ripped or shredded doesn’t mean anything when it comes to core strength. A ripped core only speaks to your current level of percentage of body fat. Having a strong core means that you are able to demonstrate stability across the torso during body movement.  More specifically, you can maintain proper positioning and bracing when your extremities (arms and legs) are in motion for any kind of activity.


The human core is in pretty much everything that is not an extremity. Having a strong core will ensure that you can reach your goals, whether they be strength, speed, power, definition, size, endurance etc. Strengthen the core and you will reach new limits in your training. 

The following is a list of the muscles that make up the core of the human body.

·         Rectus Abdominis - located along the front of the abdomen, this is the most well-known abdominal muscle and is often referred to as the "six-pack" due to it's appearance in fit and thin individuals.
·         Erector Spinae- This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back.
·         Multifidus - located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column, these muscles extend and rotate the spine.
·         External Obliques - located on the side and front of the abdomen.
·         Internal Obliques - located under the external obliques, running in the opposite direction.
·         Transverse Abdominis (TVA) - located under the obliques, it is the deepest of the abdominal muscles (muscles of your waist) and wraps around your spine for protection and stability.
·         Hip Flexors - located in front of the pelvis and upper thigh. The muscles that make up the hip flexors include: psoas majorilliacusrectus femorispectineussartorius
·         Gluteus medius and minimus - located at the side of the hip
·         Gluteus maximushamstring grouppiriformis - located in the back of the hip and upper thigh leg.
·         Hip adductors - located at medial thigh.

Turo Gamez NSCA-CPT

Category. (n.d.). The Best Core Exercises and Core Workouts. Sports Medicine, Sports Performance, Sports Injury - Information About Sports Injuries and Workouts for Athletes. Retrieved May 3, 2013, from

Willardson, J. M. (2007). Core Stability Training: Applications to Sport Conditioning Programs. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,21(3), 979-985.