For as long as crop tops, bikinis, and, well, Britney Spears have been around there's been an obsession with having a flat, six-pack stomach.
Listen in on any personal training consult and more often then not, you will hear the client say, ' I want abs'. Take a look around your local gym and you will probably see half the population cracking away at the ab machine, doing crunches or other core moves that will make it hurt to laugh for the next few days.
Now, don't get us wrong. It is very very important to have a strong core. But we think it is about time we appreciate this muscle group for what it really does, and stop placing all its value on its resemblance to a pack of soda cans.
We hope that we can convince/ inspire/ motivate you to stop seeing your abs as a vanity project, and start seeing beyond skin-deep benefits of training your core.
Your core is your entire support system.
Your core muscles play a huge role in your every day movements and activities. From getting out of bed, to walking down the street, and bending over to grab something from your purse, but most importantly, they literally help you stay upright.
Our core muscles are the base of our entire support system, they completely surround and support our spine and pelvis and connect our upper body to our lower body, effectively transferring forces from one to the other.
Here's an anatomy refresher: Your abs aren't just one muscle.
The deepest layer of abdominal muscles, and arguably the most important, is your transverse abdominis, which stabilizes your spine and pelvis.
Then you have two layers of oblique muscles, which control lateral flexion (think a side bend), rotation, and other spinal movements.
Last but not least is the topmost muscle, the rectus abdominis, which runs vertically in the front of your abdomen and is the muscle you see as a six-pack. It flexes your torso forward, like in a crunch.
And when you're talking about your whole core (versus just your abs), there are even more muscles involved: your pelvic floor muscles, the back muscles that stabilize your spine, and your diaphragm (the main muscle involved in breathing).
A strong core helps keep a more upright and erect posture whether you're being active or just sitting at your desk. Think of it like the tree trunk of your body (albeit a lot more mobile): It has to hold its ground so that your branches (arms and legs) can do their ~thing~ any which way.
Core strength is crucial in every movement you do.
A stable base is super important when you start moving.
The ab muscles play a dominant role in movement in every plane of motion: sagittal (forward and backward), frontal (left and right), and transverse (rotational).
Even when they don't seem important, your core muscles are often the first-and most important guest-at the party.
Typically, the core muscles fire or activate prior to us doing an activity. Our nervous system anticipates the activity, and braces for support, really, when we go to do anything. If you don't have that core stability and support acting as a brace or a girdle for your spine, you're likely going to compensate with other muscles.
Compensating is a quick route to injury.
A weak core is the number-one risk for potential injuries, especially lower-back injuries. Research shows that core strength training (and training the deep trunk muscles specifically) can help alleviate lower-back pain.
While back injuries are very common with a weak core, you can also injure other parts of your body as a result, like your shoulders, hips, and knees.
You need to build enough core strength before you can build strength anywhere else...
For the most part, core strength is what keeps you from being able to complete or continue an exercise-even in moves where you're not primarily working your abs.
For example: During push-ups, are your hips sagging? Is your lower back arching and is your stomach is touching the ground first? In an overhead press, does your lower back arch and ribs pop forward to get the weight up? In a deadlift, does your back hurt or are you forced to either hunch forward or extend (arch) your back? In any of these cases, it's likely you have weak abs.
Building the proper base will not only help you avoid injury, but will help you perform better too.
...but you need to use it correctly.
Having a strong core is just one part of the equation, though; you also need to know how to use it. It's about increasing the person's awareness of the muscle, then once they're able to activate it, it's much easier to activate that muscle in all exercises. Use these tips to learn how to engage your core, and follow these instructions to make sure your core is working during all your workouts.
And next time you catch yourself counting abs in the mirror, remember: It's what's deeper that really counts.