Your core is more than just your abs.
Your core is a complex series of muscles that includes everything except your arms and legs.
Your core is involved in practically every movement your body does.
For most powerlifters and weightlifters, they believe that they get their core work in from deadlifting and squatting. Therefore they believe they don’t have to train the core directly. For those out there looking for more aesthetic gains, they believe solely training their abs will get them a six pack.
Somehow along the way, the information on how to train your core for maximal results has been lost. Here I’ll outline how this information may have been misinterpreted;
- Squatting and Deadlifting for Abs
The squat and deadlift do activate the core. However, the information interpreted from the research has been misunderstood. The study I’m talking about looked at 3 core muscles, the lumbar multifidus, transverse abdominis and quadratus lumborum (1). All of these muscles are deep, stabilising muscles of the core. These are not the “abs”, the abdominals and oblique’s, that people usually think of at the front of their body.
This study identified that squatting and deadlifting activated the muscles of the core, just not all of them.
A similar study compared core activation between squats and deadlifts and stability ball exercises (2). They found that activation was equal or greater to that of stability ball exercises. It was then stated that squats and deadlifts should be used for increasing strength and hypertrophy of the back extensors, essentially core muscles at the back of your body.
This highlights that squatting and deadlifting do activate your core, but at the back of your body. This makes sense as those muscles have to keep your spine aligned to stop any unwanted movement.
For a strong core, squats and deadlifts should be used alongside exercises that are also going to target your abs and oblique’s. These could include woodchops, deadbugs, ab rollouts and suitcase carries.
- Holds vs. Rotations
Planks, side planks and palof presses are great exercises for developing core stiffness. This is important to allow the spine, and you, to lift heavier loads. Without core stiffness you run the risk of turning your squat into a good morning. However, this is only half of the information.
Along with your core keeping stiffness around the spine, it is also used to create and transfer force. Think of a golf swing, throwing a ball, or something simple as playing pass the parcel. These activities all require rotation and must include using your core. If this didn’t happen, your spine would just become an absolute mess.
Taking all that into account, it must be concluded that to have a healthy spine, lift heavier weight and simply perform any dynamic movement, you must train both holds and rotations together. Check the video below of a palof press with a rotation, combining a hold and a rotation together;
- Ab Day
The days of having a chest day, or back day, or ab day are long gone. It has been shown that other training methods are a lot more beneficial and provide greater results. It has been shown in studies that core training has little carry over into increasing someone’s fitness or athletic performance (3). Training your core just gets your core muscles strong.
However, having said that, it cannot be taken away that training your core is beneficial. These have been highlighted in the points above. It must be understood though, that the core does not require an entire workout to be trained. The thinking of smashing your abs for an hour is going to make you fitter and more athletic is the same as thinking flapping your arms faster will make you fly. Core training must be used alongside other training methods.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of what your core is and how to get the most out of training it. There’s so much more you can be doing than smashing out endless crunches.
The takeaway points I would give you are;
- Squats and deadlifts train your core muscles at the back of your body. To have an all rounded strong core, include exercises that are going to target the core muscles at the front your body. Think abs.
- Just doing planks is great for creating stiffness around the spine, but limits you in being able to transfer force effectively. Use planks aswell as rotational exercises to get the best of both worlds.
- Setting aside vast amounts of time on just training your core isn’t going to suddenly make you a superhero. Train your core alongside other elements of your training. Within a session, add in 1-2 core exercises. You don’t need a whole programme focused on your core.
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Thanks for reading,
- Martuscello JM, et al. Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jun;27(6):1684-98.
- Nuzzo JL, et al. Trunk muscle activity during stability ball and free weight exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):95-102.
- The Role of Trunk Muscle Strength for Physical Fitness and Athletic Performance in Trained Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2015 Nov 20. [Epub ahead of print]