Fitness trends fall in and out of favor, but one that always seems to be in style is six-pack abs. Women want lean, toned abdominal muscles, whereas men long for that shredded look, every ridge of the rectus abdominis sharply etched. However, these goals prove elusive, because they require not only significant development of the abdominal muscles, but also an overall workout program and diet supporting fat loss while preserving hard-earned muscle. Aside from the cosmetic aspects, powerful core muscles have several other advantages, even if the six-pack look eludes you.
What is the “core” and why is it so important?
The core is not what you may think. Much more than rectus abdominis and obliques, the core consists of a couple dozen muscles at the very least, many of them “deep” (not superficial) muscles — diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidus, and transverse abdominals. The core protects the spine from injury and transfers force during movement, helping to resist twisting.
As an experiment, try throwing a hard punch. You probably noticed that all the muscles below your neck tensed, beginning with your calves and continuing through your hamstrings, glutes, and hips and into your trapezius and lats. Of course, you braced your abdominal muscles, too! In a sense, all of those muscles are, to varying degrees, core muscles, because they all assist in resisting rotation!
The core not only protects your spine from injury, but also directly affects your sports performance and athletic power; it’s your “secret weapon.” The best exercises for core development are often those in which the body is not supported. If you bench press, your body is supported so your core may not be working as hard as it would be if you substituted push presses. Compound, unsupported movements like deadlifts, squats, and power cleans have the added benefit of being excellent core conditioning movements.
Tips for working the core muscles
If you want a strong core, you should think of developing it as a four-step process that progresses from more to less controlled movements:
- Begin with isometric holds like side bridges and planks. When you can meet reasonable standards for each basic movement, then try proven ways to “progress” each.[1,2]
- Crawling, like bear crawls and spider crawls, begins to add instability with arm and leg movements.[3.4] You can progress these movements by combining them with dumbbell or sandbag drags.
- Unilateral (single-sided) training is the next step up the ladder. Try single-leg deadlifts, renegade rows, strength work on gymnastics rings, and one-arm kettlebell swings. With the exception of the swings, make the movements slow, precise, and methodical. Emphasize body control! As an added challenge, perform Turkish getups with a kettlebell or dumbbell, even a sandbag.
- Throwing medicine balls, punching, and diagonal chops add elements of speed and power to your training. You should develop the first three stages in the core strength plan to a high degree, in the prescribed order, before doing these explosive movements.
Don’t neglect squats and deadlifts, push presses and power cleans, but remember, direct core work, properly integrated into your plan, will also improve your performance in these lifts, too! Add HIIT a few times per week and a good diet, and you’ll have those six-pack abs and so much more!
CATEGORIES: Workout, Strong Core, Abs, Stomach Muscles, Powerful