By now we have all heard the term core. You've been told it's important. It's thrown around every gym and in every fitness related discussion countless times on a daily basis. But what does the term core mean? Is it just another word for abs? What is core training? Crunches? Planks?
First, let's clarify that your core and your abs are not the same thing. Your abs include the rectus abdominus (the muscles on the top that create the "6 pack look"), the transverse abdominus (the deeper muscles that wrap around the stomach), and the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the side of your abs). Your core however includes all the muscles in your abs plus the muscles in your pelvis, low back, and hips. Since you can see there are more muscles involved in your core you can also deduce that the stronger the core, the stronger and more resilient the entire body. Just think of how many injuries and ailments could be eliminated just by strengthening the pelvis, low back, and hips.
Now we're gonna talk about the common core exercises. Planks and crunches or some sort of crunch variation. These are not bad exercises and they may be just what you need to get started. The issue is that most often than not, these become incredibly vanilla and non challenging, and this happens fairly quickly. If you can hold a 4 minute plank that's great! That definitely requires core stability. But stability is only one function of the core. The core is also used to generate movement of your extremities in all 3 planes of motion (frontal, sagittal, and transverse) and to allow safe spinal flexion. The other issue with planks and crunches is specificity. All trainers know where I'm going with this one. Using our 4 minute plank example from above, during the course of a normal day most people probably are not going to drop to the ground on their forearms and hold that position for 4 minutes. They will most likely be performing a lot of dynamic movements and the demands on their core will be increasing and constantly changing.
So what are we supposed to do? If you're currently using planks and crunches and you have been for a while try adding some instability to your plank by removing one of your arms or legs, or one of each. You could also make the plank more dynamic by adding movement such as a straight leg march or some small lateral jumps. For your crunches try adding some weight. It could be a medicine ball or weight plate if you have it but if not you can use some regular household items like emptying a milk jug and filling it with water or sand. Ideally though you are gonna want to train on your feet as often as possible since this is where most of your core demand is needed. I'm a big fan of weighted core work although once again it depends on where you are in terms of progression. One of the best overall exercises for many reasons is the farmer's carry. Just grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and start walking. That's it. Need a progression? If you have the means, try holding a pair of dumbbells, kettlebells, or a loaded barbell over your head and performing a step up on a box about 6 to 12 inches off the floor. This is a great one because now the demand on the hips, low back, and pelvis are being challenged to an even higher degree. In either exercise, the core is being challenged in ways you would never achieve with a static plank or crunches. Another example of a great core movement is taking a light band and tying it around a sturdy object at about mid chest height. Grab the band with both hands and stand so that the band is trying to pull you to the right. Now step to your left just a little to place tension on the band. Start writing your ABC's just like you did in grade school using slow and controlled movements. Once you get to z you'll obviously switch and perform the same on the left side as well.
Now that we've distinguished the difference between your core and your abs, pointed out some of the issues with the conventional core/ab exercises, and learned some exercises that are more suitable, all that's left to do is to GET IT DONE! Please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. You can contact me through this website and I'm also on Instagram @darkhorse.performance and on Facebook @beadarkhorse or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading and have an awesome day!