Let’s talk about your core. It’s the part of the body that connects your upper and lower body together. It consists of many important muscles for human performance and function. It’s also an area that people will look at when determining whether or not someone is “in shape.” Visibly amazing looking and well-functioning core muscles are quite rare, even among fitness enthusiasts. This is partially because a visible “six pack” also requires a low body fat percentage. If you aren’t lean, it doesn’t matter how well developed your core muscles are, no one will be able to see them. The other reason impressive core muscles are rare is because people don’t focus on the right exercises and movements.
Although there are many muscles that make up the core, I am going to focus on the main visible ones in this article, the abdominals and the obliques. If you only ever do targeted exercises for these muscles, and you do them PROPERLY, you will develop and build a visibly impressive core (so long as you are also lean).
The abdominals are responsible for a few functions, but the primary function is to bring the pelvis closer to the rib cage or vice versa. That’s basically it. The abs attach at the pelvis and the rib cage so when they contract (shorten) the bring those two areas closer together. They ROUND your lower back when they squeeze. They don’t bend you at your hips. This is a BIG difference. The hip flexors bend you at your hips. The abs bend you at your lower back. When doing abdominal exercises remember this.
The obliques twist your trunk and they bend you at your sides. They do NOT twist you at your hips or bend you at your hips. It all happens at the spine. Keep this in mind when working your obliques.
Below are 3 of the BEST core movements you should be doing to build an amazing core.
A reverse crunch aims at bringing the pelvis closer to the rib cage. When performing this exercise imagine you are a rolling your body up like a piece of paper. Don’t kick your legs up in the air or shoot them straight up in the air either. Instead bend your knees, tuck your legs and “roll back.” I loved teaching this to clients because it helps people learn the true function of the abs. When these get easy you can add resistance by doing them up hill on an incline bench. For the very strong I recommend hanging leg raises but the emphasis is the same. Roll up at the lower back, don’t just bend at the hips.
This exercise is working the obliques through a full range of motion. There are many variations of this movement but I typically start clients out by having them take a wide stance and planting their feet. Rotate AT YOUR LUMBER TRUNK. Not at the hips. While keeping the arms straight rotate and squeeze the core. Start light because this movement often times needs to be learned before resistance can be added.
Stabilization is an important function of the core. It’s the ability of the core to “hold everything together” while the legs and arms work. It’s essential to protect the spine. Planks are a great exercise for stabilization of the core. They can also be a great exercise for developing the abs. Everyone does them, but everyone also does them wrong. If you are doing planks to work the abs and the core and NOT the hip flexors you need to ROUND the low back and tuck your tail bone. Squeeze the abs and hold the position for 30-60 seconds.
Do those movements between 2-4 times a week and work in the 10-15 rep range for muscle development. Use PERFECT form. Its super easy to involve the hip flexors in core exercises. If you don’t use good form you won’t work the core nearly as effectively as if you used excellent form.