by Cary Raffle
Abdominal exercises and equipment have become about the most over-hyped thing in fitness today. People crave the looks of a 6-pack, and talk about a strong core, but these aren't necessarily one in the same. We can all agree on the benefits of a strong core including the ability to generate more power, to work more efficiently, to improve posture and prevent low back pain. Let's look at a few myths.
Myth #1 - Stong abdominals = strong core. Not necessarily. There are 29 muscles that make up the core, many of them are not abdominal muscles. The sidebar to the left summarizes the various muscles and muscle groups, including leg and back muscles. A strong core is really about the ability of these muscles to work together, a process of neuromuscular coordination. Think of the muscles as a 29 piece orchestra. Your brain is the conductor, and your central nervous system is the conductor's baton signaling each muscle.
Myth #2 - Crunches and situps are great core exercises. Partly true. But they work on the most external abdominal core muscles - primarily the rectus abdominus (that's the 6-pack muscle) and external obliques, so you'll miss the inner core muscles. In cases of low back pain, core strengthening is very important - but crunches may be the wrong exercise and actually make the problem worse.
Myth #3 - A six pack is a sign of a strong core. Not at all. A six pack is the sign of low body fat and a well worked rectus abdominus. Its what's beneath the 6-pack that counts.
How should you train your core?
An ideal program will include a base of core specific exercises, and integrate core training into your other exercises in a progressive program. The training program included in your July/August newsletter included 6 great core exercise (click here) , a great place to start. For the rest of your program, you'll want to progress so that your body becomes increasing unstable and required your core to do more work. Here's an example of how to progress a couple of exercises:
BICEPS CURL PROGRESSION
2. Seated on Stability Ball
4. Standing on One Leg
5. Standing on Balance Board (difficulties vary).
6. Standing on Balance Board Alternate Arm; Single Arm
7. Single Leg on Airex Pad
8. Single Leg on Airex Pad Alternate Arm; Single Arm
CHEST PRESS PROGRESSION
4. Dumbell Alternate Arm; Single Arm
5. Standing Cable
6. Standing Cable 1 Leg
7. Stability Ball
8. Stability Ball Alternate Arm; Single Arm
9. Stability Ball Single Leg
Finally, you'll want to progress to exercises that require you to stabilize as you're moving - walking lunges with a step up to balance, or some more advanced equipment like Kinesis.