Look at any fitness magazine cover, exercise equipment infomercial or diet supplement and you will find common image within all the marketing efforts – a toned, lean-looking six pack. A flat stomach is a highly desirable physical characteristic and knowing this, weight loss companies are using images of ripped abdominals to sell their products.
Aside from the obvious benefits of having a well developed core (impressing the opposite sex), good core strength is also important for functionality purposes. Core training should be the priority and centre-stone around which you revolve your training program.
Whether you’re training for athletics, pain relief, overall functional improvement or vanity – a well developed core is beneficial to everyone. Here’s a breakdown as to why..
Abdominal Training: Athletics
You’re only as strong as your weakest link and your core is the centre link between all your other body parts. Just think of a couple popular athletic movements. For the example, let’s look at a golf and a baseball swing. The efficiency of both of these movements is dependant on the rotary strength of the core.
Picture a running-back charging through the gap created by his offensive line and into the violent tackle attempts by the line-backing unit. Regardless of the power developed in the gym via bench press and squatting exercises, the ability to break through tackles and gain additional yardage is dependant on the power transfer from the lower to the upper body. If the core is underdeveloped, that will be a weak link in the “kinetic chain” and the running back’s “functional” strength will be decreased.
Abdominal Training: Pain Relief
It’s a well documented fact that a program which includes core strengthening movements will help to alleviate existing low back pain as well as reduce the risks of sustaining other injuries due to muscle imbalances and weak abdominals.
Abdominal Training: Daily Functional Improvement
From the very moment we sit up out of bed, literally, we are using our core to execute a multitude of daily tasks. Sitting up, bending down, twisting, turning, holding an upright position and even breathing all involve some type of contraction within the core.
Considering all the functions that the core is responsible for, it only makes sense to incorporate specific core training into your program to make yourself more efficient in performing everyday activities.
Abdominal Training: Vanity
Abs are sexy. You know it and I know it. Even with all the benefits listed above, the reason why we perform countless crunches in the gym is so we can get a sexy six pack to impress the opposite sex.
Whether you’d you like to look better, improve your athletic performance, reduce back pain or just improve your overall quality of life – you need to have a good understanding as to how the core functions in order to develop a proper training routine.
The Anatomy of Your Stomach
Your stomach region is composed of 3 muscle groups..
1) Rectus Abdominis
3) Transversus Abdominis
Here’s a breakdown of each..
More detail on this is covered in the crunch exercise description but since we’re on the topic, every wonder what the purpose of bending your legs to a 45 degree angle while performing crunches is? Well, the reason is to increase the workload on the abdominals by reducing the involvement of the hip flexors. Bending the legs accomplish this.
People often anchor their feet when performing sit ups as well. When you anchor your feet, it makes the movement easier because the hip flexors are assisting with the movement and alleviating the workload for the abdominals.
It’s also important to note that the “abs” are responsible for rotating the pelvis forward. People tend to overlook this function when they are trying to isolate the lower abdominal region and as they perform leg raise movements, they commonly do not add the aspect of pelvis rotation at the end for an optimal contraction.
Unless the hips/pelvis are rotated forward, the primary muscles being trained will be the hip flexors and the abdominals will only be activated to help stabilize the movement.
Be sure that you curl your lower back slightly off the ground/support pad as doing so will result in a more efficient contraction of the lower abdominals. Simply elevating the legs – as mentioned above – will target the hip flexors more than anything.
Also, be sure to perform an “abdominal set” prior to performing this exercise. More on how to set the abdominals will be discussed in further detail below. This principle should be used with every abdominal exercise that calls for hip flexion.
The oblique’s play a major role in our daily activities and therefore, due to their functionality, they should be made a top priority. Along with their roles relating to posture and stabilization, the oblique muscles are also responsible for movements involving side-flexion and rotation.
The internal oblique runs under and diagonally in the opposite direction of the external oblique. To allow for rotation, the internal and external oblique always work together as a unit. For example, when performing a rotation crunch – in which you are drawing your left elbow towards your right knee – the left external and right internal oblique contract simultaneously.
The rotary strength of the oblique’s can be improved via the use of medicine balls. You’ll find all sorts of exercise demo’s on the navigation panel to your right.
The transversus abdominis isn’t visible and because of that, about 99.99% of people have no idea what it is. Well, it does a few things. It works with the other stomach muscles to help stabilize and keep the stomach flat and as its primary function, the transversus abdominis plays a major role in forced expiration. In order to activate the transversus abdominis through training, you have to perform what’s known as an “abdominal set”.
Setting The Abdominals
To perform an abdominal set, you basically inhale, then exhale while sort of “sucking” your stomach in and then you rotate your pelvis forward. The purpose of doing this is to a) activate the transversus abdominis and b) emphasize the natural curve of your lower back. This technique has actually been shown to reduce spinal compression by as much as 40%.
You can use this technique with almost every abdominal exercise for there are some movements where it’s more important to perform than others. I’m sure you’ve seen those “ab wheels” around. Heck, there’s most likely one lying around your gym or perhaps even your basement. Setting the abdominals is an absolute must when performing that exercise as it will reduce the strain on your lower back.
As for all the other exercises, just check out the navigation panel to your right. You’ll find all sorts of videos, step by step instructions, tips and tricks. Check it out..