Ilicia Balaban ACE C.P.T. 3/21/12
My clients are sick of hearing it: “Use your core, tighten your abs, focus your breathing on contracting your stomach.” Core conditioning continues to be a foundational building block to unlocking true fitness potential. Good fitness is characterized by performance in five areas: aerobic capacity, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. Every single one of these categories and additionally, balance, stability and coordination, is affected by core strength.
Your core in composed of several difference muscles including the rectus abdominus (the pretty muscles that compose a 6-pacK), internal and external oblique’s, transverse abdominus, multifidus and erector spinae (lower back). Too often in an attempt to achieve a flat stomach, individuals pay extensive attention to the rectus abdominus and obliques while virtually ignoring the other muscles. For sufficient core strength and to reap the benefits of increased balance and stability, equal attention must be given to all core muscles. The transverse abdominus (TVA), often the most overlooked of the core muscles, is arguably the most important with regard to regulating proper form, support and distribution of weight during exercise. Basic crunches and sit-ups do not work the TVA to the extent that a plank or full abdominal extension and contraction (like on a BOSU or Stability Ball) does. For example try a single leg plank or BOSU single leg rotational crunch. Additional attention must also be given to the muscles of the lower back as they work in to promote stability and provide support in a balanced training regimen.
The best part about abdominal strength training is that most any exercise can be become a core focused movement with a little modification. First and foremost, remember to engage your core upon lifting any weight, regardless of difficulty, direction or momentum. Bracing ones core means contracting the abdominal muscles much in the same way you would contract any other muscle, your bicep for example. Bracing DOES NOT mean sucking your gut in. You should be able to breathe normally with your abs contracted. Then add a balance challenge. Performing a simple movement like a bicep curl or overhead press on one foot or on a BOSU ball will add inherent core dynamic. Spending a little extra time and focus on training your core muscles both in the gym and throughout daily activities will promote increased balance, coordination, and build a stronger foundation from which other aspects strength, endurance and cardiovascular training will prosper. For more information on adding core training exercises to your workout please see one of our experienced trainers.