It is quite interesting how information spreads around the fitness industry.
On one end it would seem like all topics would spread like wildfire, and a lot do.
Just from observations, I would say that the information that becomes most popular involves things that are cool, flashy, and hardcore.
Unfortunately, cool does not mean good. In most cases, it also does not mean optimal.
A quick search on the internet can find approximately 4578592 different articles on the best way to get a six pack.
Luckily, there are also more articles on how to eat your way to a six pack since the best strategy is nutrition and exercise.
When it comes to actually training the abdominals, obliques, and low back, the information is severely outdated.
We are lost in a simplistic method of determining the role of our muscles.
Very rarely does one muscle work by itself in isolation. Usually the muscles are working together to accomplish whatever needs to be done.
When activation patterns are looked at as well, the obliques are never shut off when the rectus is working.
They are a muscle group and groups of muscles form movement.
So how come when I look at “7 Ways to Get Ripped Abzzz” it only has situp/crunch variations.
The idea behind it is kind of like communism, sounds great on paper but is terrible in practice.
The rectus abdominis is capable of flexing the torso. That is the action of the muscle.
The problem is that the muscle has a unique structure that is not found in any other major muscle.
It has a beaded like shape which means it is build for stability or resisting motion.
If it was supposed to flex the torso it would look like a hamstring, which is designed to pull on attachment closer to the other.
So I assume the reasoning for crunches and sit ups is that they activate the rectus. Enough rectus training will create a six pack.
This reasoning is flawed for 2 major reasons. One is that if there is a layer of fat over the abdominals, it does not matter what you do under that fat.
You have to get rid of the fat to expose the the six pack. Most people already have one, it is just covered up.
Getting rid of the fat is accomplished through nutrition and consistent training.
Secondly, the risk of pain is high with torso flexing exercises. The spine is not meant to round and it will react accordingly.
Herniated and bulging disks are two of the most common sites of pain from a flexion bias.
Keys to Better Core Training
1. Create stability
Stability in the core is accomplished by resisting movement.
The trunk can move forward (flexion), backward (extension), and side to side (lateral flexion). It’s not supposed to be trained in that fashion but there is movement in those planes.
The real role of the core is to resist those movements.
Try to perform any exercise without allowing the torso to go anywhere. Now every exercise is a core stability challenge.
2. Brace, breathe, move
If someone was going to punch you in the stomach and you had to absorb it, you would tighten all of the muscles around it.
This is what the abdominal brace is. It is not a hollowing of the stomach.
Bracing activates the transverse abdominis, rectus abdomins, and obliques. Bracing too hard will cut off your breathing.
When you are setting up for a core stability exercise brace, breathe, and then start moving.
This ensures that your core is going to function but not so hard that you are going to pass out.
3. A twist on endurance training
Muscular endurance is a misunderstood topic.
For most it is about doing a ton of quick reps, sometimes into the hundreds.
If the exercise is so many reps that it begins to take a long time, then it is no longer muscular endurance. It can become aerobic training.
Muscular endurance is classically considered reps in the 12-15-20 range.
Well that does not describe the kind of reps. It is all about the time under tension.
Muscular endurance bouts should last about 45 seconds maybe to a minute. Anything longer is starting to get into the aerobic system and we are no longer training muscular endurance.
Changing that is simple. Perform holds up to 8 seconds long and repeat the holds for 5 reps. The set will only take 48 seconds and then you move on.
Holding a plank for 3 minutes is not core stability. It is hanging on passive restraints to hold the position.
If you can do something for days on end, make it harder and hold it for shorter. You can then add reps of the same length holds to train for endurance.
Repeated efforts of shorter holds are the key to muscular endurance of the core.