All’s fair in love and core….or is it?
8 Myths and tips about core training
1. Our core is our abs
Well, that’s only part of the story. Abdominals form just a part of our core. Picture an apple. If the core consisted of your abs, then it would be a bite-sized chunk from its belly not the spine of the fruit. The true core is our trunk, ie hip to hip, hip to shoulder, shoulder to shoulder, shoulder to hip, front to back and yes, back to front and all the mess in between.
2. Crunches will give you a 6 pack
Wrong! Endless crunches will negatively impact your posture unless balanced out with an equal amount of supermen or back extensions. Crunches exacerbate the main postural problems we suffer as humans because of the way we spend much of our lives, ie hunched forwards be it over a computer, handlebars, a steering wheel or a stove. Nutrition combined with focussed resistance training and intense cardio will lead you to that elusive 6 pack. Be warned though, getting there is one matter, staying there quite another….be clear about what you really want and what you are prepared, really honestly prepared, to do to get it.
3. Brace the core!
This term is bandied about endlessly but what does it mean? To my mind, bracing is what you do when you’re preparing to be punched in the guts or for some kind of impact. When I do that I pull everything in (so far so good) and…..hold my breath (not so great when you then need to move, squat, lift, push etc). Being aware of your abs actively supporting all movements is the way to go. Combine correct breathing patterns when training to get the deep abs firing and you will have no need to stick a bunch of crunches at the end of your workout as your abs will have already been working hard and therefore strengthened along the way. Bingo!
4. Bring sexy BACK!
We make a choice about what we see in the mirror each day. Think positively (& suck your belly in) and you’re a lean, mean, ripped machine. Think negatively (drum roll for the paunch) and your day could be over before it has begun. Huge focus is placed on the “mirror” muscles, ie abs, chest, biceps, quads. A balanced physique is not only a better looking one, it is also much more likely to do what you need it to do in life without injury so for every crunch add in a superman and for every bench press add in a row.
5. Strengthen your gluts
For every crunch do a squat. Then do 20 more. The gluts (those potentially fabulous looking butt muscles) are the opposing muscle group to the abs so, in order to keep a strong spine and core, focus on including some serious glut work in your training or risk back problems.
6. You cannot out-train a bad diet
In our 20s we can get away with a lot and potentially still maintain a killer physique. As the years whizz past however, bits move…..usually outwards and downwards. We move more as young adults – we go out more, have less sedentary jobs (bar work, supermarket shelf stocking) and often exercise more (less money for snazzy vehicles so more likely to cycle or take public transport). Gradually we earn more and move less but if we still eat the same amount we can “suddenly” wake up at 40 weighing in 10 kilos heavier. No amount of spin classes will rectify bad eating habits. Be honest with yourself.
7. Introduce functional movements to your strength training
The abdominals are designed to stabilise the spine and the torso as we bend and twist and run and jump, ie they are part of the wonderful chain of muscles that perform the movements we require. As such, focussing on isolation exercises (think pulsing crunches) does little to improve full movements such as bending down to pick up shopping, then turning to lift it and place it in the cupboard or throwing a ball for your dog and yet, all of the core muscles are required. So try focussing on engaging the abdominal muscles before bending to lift the groceries, before reaching to open the door, before launching into any strength exercise and suddenly you’ll find a) your abs will be doing what they should and will therefore get stronger incidentally and b) you’ll be able to lift, push, pull more weight. Who’d a thunk it?!
8. Re-acquaint yourself with your pelvic floor
Pilates is not just for dancers or rehab. I like to think it works from the inside out by helping us connect to the deep, smaller, supportive muscles that hold us up and allow our joints to move smoothly. Training often focuses on the big, shouty muscles (think biceps, pecs, 6-pack), which then get over-worked, out of whack and go on strike. Cue an injury. If you like to smash yourself in your training, factor in some deep conditioning work and your body will thank you for it long term. Drawing your pelvic floor up (lifting the good bits) and gently holding that contraction helps fire the deepest abdominals, ie TVA or transversus abdominis. It is this much neglected but very important muscle that will draw your waist in and support your lower back. Win, win.
Photo credits: Robert S. Donovan, bark, midwestnerd, Denish C, Frits Ahiefeldt-Laurvig
Have you found any of these or other tactics have helped changed the way you move/exercise/feel? Share your thoughts & experiences, please!