Core training has remained unchanged for years. Here are the new techniques you need to try to get the best abs ever!
It’s a term we hear all too often being linked with developing six pack abs. But this use of the term has made us lose sight of what core training actually is.
The new rules are in fact rooted in training this area properly without being concerned with all the hype of developing abs muscles. Sure, abs muscles get a little training emphasis, but they only play a small part in core body movements.
What Is The Body’s True Core?
The core of your body consists of the muscles that closely surround your spine. Anatomically speaking, the abdominal muscles are the furthest point in the front mid-section of your body. Technically, doing abs exercises are great for your overall health, but not so much for core strengthening.
For us to strengthen and develop our core muscles, we need to focus on muscles deeper in the body. We look at the internal abs and obliques primarily instead of the external ones. But, this is not to say that the external abs and obliques have no part in spinal movements. The core muscles to look at are many. They include the erector spinae, multifidi, diaphragm, transversus and rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, lumbar and latissimus dorsi, hip flexors, hip adductors and all three gluteal muscles.
All of these help you to do various spinal movements. That includes trunk flexion or bending forward, trunk rotation or twisting left and right, as well as trunk extension or standing up and even extending backward. Of course there’s also lateral trunk flexion or bending to either side. Not to be forgotten is abs compression where you pull your belly button in towards your spine, as well as spinal stability, which keeps your spine stable during movement.
To strengthen these muscles, we have to do functional movements that apply to them accordingly. We could break the list down further, but it seems a bit unnecessary going too far beyond the spine.
There Are Some Simplified Core Training Techniques
As mentioned, we need to attack the core muscles with as much intentional targeting as possible. You could think of it as isolation training for your core. With that said, there are too many muscles being activated to justify most of the exercises for the core as being isolation movements.
You need to understand how your body is moving your spine. Take a moment to try the different moves outlined previously. Slowly try them out and feel the muscles being contracted.
Twist your body left and right. Bend forward and exaggerate bending backwards. Stand up straight, place your hands on your hips and then bend your body from the left to right while facing forward. Lastly, stand up straight and exhale all the air from your lungs. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and inhale to extend it back to normal.
You should be able to feel most if not all of the muscles being contracted to make all this possible. Doing these motions without resistance might even make you feel sore the next day because the muscles are undertrained.
Make Your Core Muscles Do Their Job
Did you notice your core muscle stiffen while doing those moves? The reason is because that is a natural way to protect your spine from injury. You will use this protective defense for your spine to your advantage. Just like with any exercise, you have to force a muscle to contract against an external force (resistance) to properly train the muscle(s).
Placing a heavy load against your body with compound lifts naturally causes this to happen. Exercises such as the overhead press, bench press, deadlift and squat require a strong core. In order for your hip and shoulder joints to move with force, the spine must be held in a rigid position without movement.
The simplified version to boosting your core strength is letting these muscles do their job. Placing heavy loads against your shoulders or hands achieves this task. This is the reason why power lifters and bodybuilders have naturally strong core muscles. You should be doing 5×5 or 5×8 sets to maximize the use of core muscles for spinal protection.
This Is Advanced Core Training.
The simplified version is basically training as usual with compound lifts. But the advanced core-training program varies. Why? Simple, because this form of training means you’re putting a lot of emphasis on these muscles. For example, standing exercises use your core the most.
The best exercise for advanced targeting would be heavy loaded overhead presses. Strength and conditioning coaches use this exercise for athletes who lack core strength. Its purpose is to use a heavy load that you can handle lifting and holding in place to properly progress and do the move. Let’s take a look at this with more detail.
This Is How To Do The Overhead Press
Put the bar with weights on a power rack. Be sure that the bar is set to shoulder height. Place your upper chest against the bar and your hands just outside your shoulders with a pronated grip (palms facing away). Put one foot behind you and press upwards against the bar to clear the rack.
Take a deep breath using your abs and diaphragm. Don’t breathe in using your shoulders. Concentrate on contracting your glutes and abs as you exhale to press the weight overhead. Hold the position with your elbows very slightly bent. You may lower the weight once your abs, glutes and lower back are locked and tight.
You can either do one more rep if the weight isn’t too heavy, or rest for three to five minutes and then do another one.
Practice Your Breathing Patterns
Breathing properly is essential for your inner core muscles to contract properly. Most people are generally used to breathing in deeply using their shoulders to pull the chest muscles back. This is using the upper region of your abs and limits the use of your diaphragm.
The way you should be breathing is by drawing the air in with your lower abs region. This uses the diaphragm fully and allows the rest of your inner core muscles to become used to maximum potential during a lift. Practice this breathing pattern while you are walking, sitting, reading, talking or anything else.
There Are Many Benefits To Core Training
By now, you should be familiar with what the core is and how to train it. You should also know why you need a stronger core in the first place. A strong core helps you to reduce back pain and prevent possible injuries. It improves your athletic performance and abilities. It also improves your posture and fixes imbalances.
The potential to reduce back pain is huge. Weak inner core muscles make it hard for them to protect your spine. People are often told it is due to a lack of abs strength, but they play a small role in this. Balanced and stronger inner core muscles allow them to reduce the strain on your lower spine. This helps prevent possible injuries from occurring.
Improved athletic performance is something many of us strive for. Since your core muscles are stronger they can now stabilize your spine from your hips up to your shoulders and neck. This allows more power output when you use your arms and legs for all moves. You have to understand that your spine must be stable and solid for your arms and legs to do forceful movements.
Speaking of being stable, a strong core also helps to fix your posture. Having a forward leaning spine is quite common. Why? We’re all hunching over while on the computer, cell phones, tablets, etc. Training your core builds proper posture. That training will be able to correct this imbalance over time if the movements are correctly used.
Core training is categorized as functional training. This means that the training is used to strengthen muscles that are needed for daily actions. For example, think about when you’re moving a box from the floor to a shelf. You must squat down and bend forward (trunk flexion) to grasp the bar. As you stand up straight (trunk extension), you are stabilizing your spine. When the shelf is to your side, you rotate your trunk first before twisting your legs with it. This is a normal function that most people do daily, minus the box.
There’s New Research On Abs Crunches
Both regular and reverse crunches may not be as good as we were all told. New studies show that these moves place too much force on our spines, thus perhaps causing excessive back strain and injuries. Normal crunches were already identified for causing this because your spine is literally being driven into the floor.
Reverse crunches were determined to be safer because you are pulling your spine away from the floor. The only problem is that you’re now overemphasizing the curvature of your spine. This could lead to long-term pain if done too often. The better alternative for these would be leg raises and lying down holding leg lifts.
Planks Need To Take A Hike!
What is the point of holding your body in the planking position if your posture is ruined once a part of your body needs to be adjusted? The monotonous aspect of the exercise is also a reason to put the hype on planks to rest. After you spend however long on planking, you then have to focus on other muscles groups making the training day even longer.
One of the most common reasons people hate working out is because the exercises get too repetitive when it comes to holding your body in place. Just take a more dynamic approach to your training as opposed to remaining static. You not only keep yourself busy, but you also knock out two birds with one stone.
The more effective approach would be doing push-ups. This exercise has to be done with all the same core muscles required for planking. The only difference is that you are now training your upper torso along with your core muscles.
What About Single-Arm Presses And Lifts?
You will notice that a lot of people in the gym rarely do single-arm movements aside from triceps, biceps and rowing exercises. Exercises done with a single-arm, while standing, encourage the use of core muscles to keep your spine stable and maintain proper balance. You also benefit from them because you can pinpoint any weaknesses that may have on one side of your body, but not the other. This will improve your compound lifts for better performance.
The best thing to do when performing a sing-arm move is to use the inactive arm for keeping your body balanced. This takes focus and a lot of concentration on all the muscles being used. But they are fun to do and beneficial for your body. Just give them a try and see for yourself.
Here’s An Example Of A Proper Core Training Day
Exercise Sets Reps
Push-ups 5 25
Squats 5 5
Romanian deadlifts 4 8
Single-arm dumbbell bench press 4 8
Single-arm dumbbell overhead press 4 8
Lat cable pushdowns 4 10
Suitcase deadlift to carry 2 5 (take 10 steps during carry)
Of course, there are plenty of other exercises you can consider doing for a core-focused training day. Make sure to take a full body 24-hour rest day after a training program like this. It’s full body training after all!
Your core is more than just your abs. It consists of the muscles around your spine. The time has come to accept that. You use your core every day. That’s why it’s vital to strengthen it.
Using the core training techniques, we’ve described will help you avoid injuries and you should also see improved performance in the gym. Who could ask for anything better than that?
– By Brian Pankau, CPT