Myths of the Core: The Big 3

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:

1. Seated
2. Seated on Stability Ball
3. Standing
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

1. Machine
2. Barbell
3. Dumbell
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.

Weight Loss Plateaus and Pitfalls

from the American Council on Exercise
Hitting a plateau? It's like running into a wall when, after a few months on a weight-loss program, you suddenly stop seeing results. It's not uncommon. Unless you continually update your program to reflect changes your body has already experienced, you can almost be guaranteed to plateau at some point.

Weight-loss woes

The first thing you should do upon hitting a plateau is try to determine the cause. Could you be eating more calories than you think?
As you lose weight, your metabolism slows down because there is less of you to fuel. While a diet of 1,800 calories per day helped you lose a certain amount of weight, if you've hit a plateau, maybe 1,800 calories is not the amount you need at your current weight.

Exercise your options

This leaves you with two options: Lower your caloric intake further or increase the amount of time you spend being physically active.

The first option is less desirable because you may not be able to get sufficient nutrients from a diet that is very low in calories, and it is difficult to stick to it for very long. It is much better to moderately reduce calories to a level that you can sustain when you reach your goal weight.
The same is true for exercise. Trying to exercise for several hours per day to burn more calories is a good way to set yourself up for failure. Not only does this type of regimen require an enormous time commitment, it is hard on the body, making you more susceptible to injury and overuse syndromes.

To help balance the intake with the expenditure, a good rule of thumb is to multiply your goal weight by 10 calories per pound, and add more calories according to how active you are.
Another means for getting you off the plateau is strength training. Muscle is much more metabolically active than fat; therefore, the more muscle you can add, the higher your metabolism will be.

Get off the plateau

If you've stopped losing weight, the key to getting off the plateau is to vary your program. The human body adapts to just about any circumstance or stimulus; vary your program and you'll likely find yourself off the plateau and back on the road to progress. click here for a downloadable reprint of the full article from the American Council on Exercise.

Ace FitFacts are reprinted with permision from the American Council on Exercise.

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