THE FACTS ABOUT CORE TRAINING
Of all the various muscle groups on the human body, the core and abdominals are quite possibly the ones which cause the most confusion and has the greatest number of misconceptions as well. Needless to say, it's also one of the most improperly trained muscle groups as well. Let's cut the BS and go over the facts about the core and abdominals (or Abs if you prefer).
First, what are the abdominals and core not? It is NOT some magic muscle that you can train every day for hours without risk of overtraining. Seriously I've heard many people over the years say "You can't overtrain your abs". I've also heard people say that if you stop working them out for even one day, you'll lose your abs. So people have no problem understanding that the other muscles on your body need work followed by adequate recovery. But when it comes to the abs, people seem to think that the muscle tissue there is somehow different than your other bodyparts. Exactly where does this different muscle tissue come from? Are we all part alien? If you find out let me know!
The other misconceptions are exactly how to train the abs and core. I've seen so many horrendous exercises done over the years and some of them are still being done. There are many people in the fitness industry who have learned properly and are no longer doing these things, but unfortunately many still are. And it goes without saying that your average Joe (or Jane) without a fitness background won't know these things. By far one of the absolute worst so-called ab exercises is the Leg Throwdowns. This is a partner exercise where one person is lying on the ground with their head at the feet of their standing partner. The person on the gorund will raise the straight legs up (already a useless ab exercise) and then the partner will push the legs down. Not only is this completely worthless for the abdominal muscles, but it can also strain the lower back. I fail to see what possible benefit there could be with this. So how do we go about training the core and abdominal muscles properly? First we need to understand a little about human anatomy. There are two areas which need to be trained. The transverse abdominus (the unnderlying muscles close to the spine) and the rectus abdominus (the muscles on the surface below your skin also known as the six pack). Both need to be trained and this is done with two different methods.
1) CORE STABILITY
2) CORE CONTRACTION
So for core stability, the Plank is the basic exercise along with variations of it. Holding your body still and flat like a plank of wood is tremendous for your core strength. However, when doing other movements, core stability is also done. For example, when you're doing a deadlift and your torso is held straight as you lift the weight, that is certainly core stability as well. And for core conntraction, this is done one of two ways. There is a forward contraction such as a crunch and there is a twist such as a Russian twist. The simple way to know if you're contraction properly is if your ribcage and pelvic bone come closer together. If they do, then you're contracting the muscles properly. Regular situps and leg raises when your legs remain bent at the same angle and your torso remains straight do NOT train the abs. They train the hip flexors which get more than enough work from just walking. Hip flexors need flexibility exercises, not strengthening exercises. In fact, tight hip flexors along with tight hamstrings and a weak core are responsible for just about every case of lower back pain!
So now that we know what exercises not to do, let's take a look at some actual effective as well as safe exercises.
Stir The Pot
Front Squats or Goblet Squats
Plank Pull Throughs (Sandbag or Dumbbell)
L Sit (advanced)
Pike Crunch on Stability Ball
Hanging Knee Raises
Side Plank Raise
Medicine Ball Choppers
Medicine Ball Wall Throws
Animal Crawl movements
There are of course many other exercises, but these are my favourites. Really you don't need tons of different exercises. Just a handful of good ones is all it takes provided you work hard. So there you have it. Hopefully this has cleared up some misconceptions about core and ab training. They are essential and you must do it. But if you're going to do it, do it properly and safely.
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