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Core: Your Natural Weight Belt

5/30/2017 | EnFuse Staff
support@EnFuseFitness.com

Category: Strength & Rehabilitation

Core: Your Natural Weight Belt

Do six-pack abs mean you have a strong core?  The short answer is ‘not necessarily’!  Many people, especially those new to the exercise realm, carry a misconception that core only pertains to their visible stomach muscles- most notably, the rectus abdominis, which is well known for the coveted six-pack.

The core musculature of the human body consists of the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, lumbar paraspinals, internal and external obliques, and other secondary muscles that help stabilize the spine during movement and exercise.   These muscles act as a natural weight belt while performing activities such as walking, carrying groceries, or weight training.  The core provides support through stabilizing the spine and rib cage while also acting as a wall that retains the organs.

Diverse core strengthening is often neglected in workout routines.  Many fitness enthusiasts focus on doing endless amounts of crunches and straight leg raises in order to prepare for beach season.  This type of training philosophy may lead to muscle imbalances and in some cases, injury.  Regardless of how strong one’s abdominals are, he or she may be susceptible to injury if the rest of his or her core is weak.  People may train for years and appear to be completely healthy and balanced; however, when assessing long-term, some exercisers may surprisingly develop various dysfunctions such as chronic low back pain.   

Additionally, the core muscles are extremely important in maintaining proper posture.  While one may not be able to commit to multiple hours in the gym, it is extremely important to maintain core strength and endurance.  When postural muscles become deconditioned or weak, the body adapts and postural changes can be seen.  Core stability early in life may help to prevent or delay future complications. 

There is a variety of exercises that can be performed to improve core health / strength.  These exercises may isolate one muscle or work many in concert.   The following list will explain the target areas of each exercise, along with proper body mechanics while performing them.

 

Crunches- focus (primarily upper abdominals)

  • As a first progression, perform this exercise while lying on your back; slightly bend both knees to help reduce hip flexor recruitment. 
    • Next, proceed to gently draw-in and tighten your abs.
    • Raise your head and shoulders off the floor (imagine trying to touch your bottom rib to your pelvis). 
    • From here, slowly lower your head and shoulders back to the floor. 

* It is important to make sure that your neck is not flexing forward.  The neck should maintain a neutral position (avoid straining your neck) while the upper abdominals contract to raise the shoulders and neck as one unit off the ground.

 

Toe Touches- focus (primarily upper abdominals)

  • Toe touches are also performed while lying flat on the floor.  Both legs remain straight and are lifted into the air anywhere from 45 to 90 degrees.
    • Maintain this leg position for the entire set
    • Make sure your lower back maintains contact with the floor
    • From here, raise your shoulders and head off the ground and touch your toes
    • Raise and lower your upper body for reps (repetitions) to make this a dynamic movement, or hold it statically for time. 

* Again, avoid straining your neck.  Allow your abdominals to do the work. 

 

Reverse Crunches- focus (lower abdominals)

  • For this exercise, you lie flat on the ground with your arms at your side for balance. 
    • Next, with your knees slightly bent, bring your legs and lower torso toward your head. 
    • Lower extremities should be raised off the ground, focusing on the contraction in your lower abdominals.

Note- always perform this exercise under control (quality over quantity, always!)

 

Flutter Kicks- focus (lower abdominals)

  • Start by lying on your back. 
    • Raise both legs approximately 6-8 inches off the ground.
    • Alternate slightly raising and lowering each leg (one leg up / the other leg down). 
    • You can vary tempo / cadence, reps, and time under tension to increase and or decrease the difficulty of this exercise.

* Note:  It is important to make sure your lower back maintains constant contact with the floor while raising / lowering your legs.  Avoiding this advice may lead to lower back strain. 

* Many fitness experts consider Flutter Kicks to be more of a hip-flexor exercise than a traditional abdominal exercise; however, it is a great tool to include into your core strengthening program.

 

Plank- focus (general core stability)

  • Start in a prone position with your elbows and forearms on the ground. 
    • Make sure to keep your forearms pointing straight ahead (parallel) and avoid grasping your hands together.
    • Splay your fingers wide (not shown in the diagram)
    • Gently draw in and contract your abdominals.
    • Maintain this posture for a predetermined period-of-time. 


* Avoid letting your hips sink (maintain a neutral spine) as this will add stress to your lower back. 

* Note:  If this exercise is too difficult, drop to your knees and continue as previously explained.

* For a visual demonstration, please watch our video tutorial here- https://www.enfusefitness.com/community/Blog/push-up-series-par/

 

Side Plank- focus (general core stability / emphasizes the obliques)

  • Side planks are a variation of the standard plank.
    • Lie on your side.
    • Prop yourself up on your elbow / forearm.
    • Gently draw in and contract your abdominals.
    • Maintain this posture for a predetermined period-of-time. 
    • Keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and stacked on top of one another.

* Again, avoid allowing your hips to sink down.

 

Bridge- focus (glutes / isometric contraction in your abdominals)

  • Bridges are a phenomenal exercise to incorporate into your workout! 
    • Lie on your back with your knees bent. 
    • Create a slight posterior tilt and raise your hips (aim for a strong contraction in your glutes).
    • Lower back to the floor.
    • Raise and lower your hips for reps (repetitions) to make this a dynamic movement, or hold it statically at the top position for time. 

* Note:  Try to avoid hyperextending / working your lower back.  The glutes are where you should primarily feel this exercise (Some may feel this in their quadriceps initially.  Continue to focus on contracting your glutes until your body recognizes what you expect from it). 

 

Core exercises should be included in everyone’s workout, regardless of training goal.  These muscles can help prevent injury in the long run and allow for safer lifting mechanics.  The above exercises, along with numerous other core strengthening exercises, can vary in repetition or duration. It is important to maintain proper form while doing all of these exercises in order to hit the targeted muscles.

 

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References:

    1. Granacher U, Gollhofer A, Hortobágyi T, Kressig RW, Muehlbauer T. The Importance of Trunk Muscle Strength for Balance, Functional Performance, and Fall Prevention in Seniors: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine. 2013;43(7):627-641. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0041-1.
    2. 2Kibler WB, Press J, Sciascia A. The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function. Sports Medicine. 2006;36(3):189-198. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636030-00001.

Images:

1. https://www.michellevodrazka.com/all-about-body-fat-and-six-packs/

2. http://www.muscle2mind.com/the-core-of-the-issue/

3. http://bodybuilding-wizard.com/basic-abdominal-crunch/

4. http://workoutlabs.com/exercise-guide/jackknife-sit-up-crunch-toe-touches/

5. https://www.fitneass.com/how-to-get-a-v-cut/

6. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/84020349270951692/

7. http://workoutlabs.com/exercise-guide/plank/

8. https://www.fitneass.com/how-to-get-6-pack-abs/side-plank/

9. http://workoutlabs.com/exercise-guide/weighted-glute-bridge/

 

We hope that you find this article helpful!

In Health,
Team EnFuse

EnFuse Fitness, located in Enfield, Connecticut is a private personal training studio that offers meal prep (meal preparation) services and caters to residents of western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut.

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