Core NOT Abs!

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The infamous 6 pack! To some the holygrail of training and a great physique, the “must have” item of fitness, to others something you keep cold in the fridge and drink at weekends!

Whilst this article will focus more on the movements & exercises for training abs, let me state first that without a “good”, “clean” diet, you are seriously wasting your time with abdominal exercises, and the search for a flat stomach. If you’re regularly eating processed foods, over indulging with alcohol, sugars and irregular sleep patterns, then your trying to fill a bucket with multiple holes and leaks! Sort this first!


The abdominal area, also known as the core or trunk, is, as the name suggests, our bodies “structure”and stability; like the trunk of a tree – there for support, strength. They connect to the spine, pelvis and run the length of the torso. Ask different people and you’ll get different answers as to the muscles that make up the core section, but personally I’d say there ares around 10 muscles, some deep in the body and unseen, some closer to the surface and possibly visual.


Every movement you make, activates your core muscles; from bending down to pick something up, to turning round to answer someone, to even lifting an arm up in the air or to the side.


Abs or Rectus Abdominis (the 6 pack) have a very limited function, they actually only flex you at the waist, or allow you to bend over from the waist. First rule of health and safety – “Bend from the legs, not the waist” – so already we’ve ruled out Ab work or movement as something safe?!! Our core unit works as that, a unit, so to train one particular muscle, on such a functional unit seems pointless? In fact, during the crunch movement, there is more work on the ABS during extension or the “lowering down” part of the movement, so this might make you think twice about wrenching yourself up, before quickly collapsing back to the floor to repeat. Slower the extension, the more work on the abs….. 😉


How many people reading this have tried “Ab crunches, or situps” and found they strain their neck? Again, a sure sign the “right” muscles aren’t working!

Getting “abs” is about lowering your body fat through hard work, clean food, and challenging workouts. When you can perform upwards or 40 “crunches” there is nothing challenging happening there – there’s also minimal caloric expenditure due to the lack of intensity of the exercise/movement.


So what should you do?

Functional exercises that will train the whole core area, mimicking every day movements of twisting, flexing, rotating and bending. Training in these movements will not only strengthen your core area, but minimise or eliminate chances of lower back pain, often caused through muscular imbalances and a weak core area.


Plank – Works one of the most under-rated core muscles (Transverse Abdominis- TVA) – start on your forearms, and push up on your toes, keeping your body in a straight, horizontal line. This TVA muscle is like a corset, try it now, pull it in and up and it’s like a corset being tightened at your back….ok, maybe a loose fitting corset for now, but continued work will make your stomach flatter and stronger!


Side Plank – Working your obliques on the sides, (underneath the love handles!)


Rotations – From standing, shoulder width apart hands out in front (optional is to hold a weight), activate your TVA as above, and rotate your trunk/upper body to one side, squeeze your TVA hard and pull back the opposite way. Aim to keep lower body still so we’re just rotating the core area. As you become more competent build up the speed and weight you use. Again if you have access to a cable machine, performing this movement against resistance will further work the muscles.


Side Flexions – Same stance as above, one arm in the air flex over at the waist away from the raised arm side, pause for a few seconds at the furthest point, contract abs and tva and pull back to middle. Repeat for 30+ secs and swap sides. Again keep lower body still and add weight to raised arm as necessary.

This can be done with kettle bells also.

Superman – a great core stability exercise, start on all 4’s ensuring hips and shoulders are equal distance. Head looking down extend one arm out in front next to your ear, then slowly lift the opposite leg behind you. Back should stay flat, and hips should not “rock” Hold for 10secs and slowly return and swap. Repeat 6-10 times.


If you have access to weights, and/or are more competent there are many more exercises that can be used to work the core area effectively like deadlifts, overhead pressing, squatting and lunging along with cable work, but the above gives a basic outline to core work.


Even if daily, when sitting, driving etc you concentrate on pulling your TVA up and in, holding it tight while moving, you’ll find over time it will become stronger. Want some home workouts for the core area? Then click here and checkout some of my YouTube videos

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