The Elusive Core

The Elusive Core

Here we go, another article on the core. There are a few schools of thought on this topic. Unfortunately, many are so misguided and off point that it has created a bunch of confusion. Here is a quick drill. Quick… What is the first image that pops into your head when you think of core……

Let me guess, a 6 pack or a lean stomach. Yes, the rectus abdominus (6pack muscle) is a part of the core, but it is only a part of the core. Actually, many people that I see working the 6 pack muscles are actually compromising true core strength by over dominating one side of the equation. Doing crunches and sit ups is NOT THE ANSWER!!! They actually cause more back pain and imbalances than any other exercise. Think about it, hundreds of practiced repetitions of trying to bring the chest closer to the hips. Unless you are trying to revert back the evolutionary chain and walk bent over STOP doing stupid crunches. Doing sit-ups does not train your core muscles.It trains them to do things incorrectly. Abdominals are actually meant to help you resist over extending and keeping your spine straight and secure. Stuart McGill a Spine specialist and world renowned author is a very big opponent of crunches and sit-ups. In everyday life, “the abdominals are braces,” says McGill, when doing any athletic movement—even opening a door—“the spine is in a neutral posture, not flexed, and the abdominal muscles are contracted to brace the spine.”

Here is a drill. Stand up, place your fingers on your abdominals. Start to bend backwards. What do you feel. You should feel your abs start to tighten and resist the extension. In doing a really great abdominal exercise such as the AB wheel think about the hardest part on the abs, if you have done them then you know it is the lowering phase while your body is extending. Crunches put tons of pressure on the discs and those of you that are doing thousands of cruches or GHD crossfit style sit ups are asking for trouble. It is not me giving my opinion, it is based on science, argue with McGill not me. McGill is an Icon in this field and I will tend to take his word over those that promote these other moves, period.

This also means the that doing the sit-ups with full extensions over a stability ball are also inappropriate and should be stopped.One more thing….. Doing supersets with back extensions does not even out the posterior and anterior chain of the body or reverse the damage of thousands of crunches. There are numerous other ways of training the abs appropriately that involve learning to brace the abs combined with breathing techniques that will stabilize the core and abdominal regions.

The understanding that needs to be reached is that there are a series of muscles involved with the core and not just what we see in the mirror or in our swimsuits. The outer core is actually made up of the Erector Spinae(muscles along the back), Hamstrings(back of the legs), Rectus Abdominus (6 pack), Rectus Femoris (main quad muscle), Gluteals(muscles of the buttocks), Lattisimus Dorsi (back muscles), and obliques(sides of body and rib cage area). There are others as well but I wanted to get the point across that if you are just focusing on the rectus abdominus then you are creating a wonderful imbalance that actually makes your core weak.

There could be an entirely different article that focuses on the internal core muscles such as the spinal stabilizers and transverse abdominus. These muscles are absolutely not trained by stability ball and GHD sit-ups and actually put at a compromise when doing so. Also, if you sit on your butt all day it is probably not strong, it is probably stretched out creating a huge instability and lack of strength in your over all core. The answer is to strengthen your butt with good full body movements such as deep squats and increasing hip flexor flexibility. Please don’t do the glute machine at the gym.

So what exercises do I recommend? Well, the Turkish Get Up is my favorite. It involves great core activation that will focus all of the key principles of core training. Side planks, knee planks, full planks, ab wheel exercises, stir the pots as well as a few others. Here are some video links to check out some good core exercise. Also, if done correctly pull-ups, squats, and one arm kettlebell presses are amazing for strengthening the core, it is just crucial that they are executed correctly to engage the correct area.

One more last big no no. Do not practice drawing in your spine. I know that some(not all) Pilates instructors and trainers que to pull the belly button back toward the spine. It is not appropriate nor does it make you strong. If you have questions on it feel free to contact me and I will give you first hand example as to why. Again, don’t shoot the messenger. Talk to the professionals in the field that have done the research and work to really show what makes you stronger and not, because at the end of the day really it is about strength and power. I don’t care if you are 80 years old, it is about strength and power. If you don’t think so, ask anyone that is aging and have lost power what they would do to get power and strength back. The fact is they would go to any lengths to get it back, and it all starts with a strong core.

Here are some links to a few other great articles and videos!

Danny Sawaya RKC, CSCS, CK-FMS
Owner Evolution Fitness Systems
www.evolutiontucson.com
danny@evolutiontucson.com

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6 Responses to The Elusive Core

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  3. Naomi Most says:

    I do have to ask about the “don’t draw the navel to the spine” admonition. I’m trying to follow the most evidence-based approach I can in my postpartum reconditioning journey (I am currently 4.5 months postpartum), and it seems the more I read, the more confused I get.

    After giving birth, the abs are not just weak, they’re stretched out and floppy. And you can see that many mothers regain their strength but never the shape of their abdomens, instead carrying what looks like a very muscular beer belly. Yet some mothers are able to flatten their abs.

    What’s the proper course to take here? I’ve been focused on strengthening (and drawing in!) the transverse abdominus in order to get the abdominals back into some semblance of their pre-pregnancy shape. Is postpartum reconditioning a case where training by drawing the navel down is actually appropriate, or is it still to be avoided?

    Thanks!

  4. Naomi Most says:

    I do have to ask about the “don’t draw the navel to the spine” admonition. I’m trying to follow the most evidence-based approach I can in my postpartum reconditioning journey (I am currently 4.5 months postpartum), and it seems the more I read, the more confused I get.

    After giving birth, the abs are not just weak, they’re stretched out and floppy. And you can see that many mothers regain their strength but never the shape of their abdomens, instead carrying what looks like a very muscular beer belly. Yet some mothers are able to flatten their abs.

    What’s the proper course to take here? I’ve been focused on strengthening (and drawing in!) the transverse abdominus in order to get the abdominals back into some semblance of their pre-pregnancy shape. Is postpartum reconditioning a case where training by drawing the navel down is actually appropriate, or is it still to be avoided?

    Thanks!

    • danny says:

      Naomi, The problem with drawing in is that it really doesn’t do much to stabilize and strengthen the core. What I mean by this is that the scientific evidence done by McGill shows that the spine does not stabilize while performing this move. I can actually demonstrate this with my clients. They cannot resist external force with their midsection while practicing in drawing in. A bracing technique is recommended which then stabilizes the body and spine. The TA is not the biggest player in the game and isolating it doesn’t do the trick. It’s like trying to strengthen the legs and doing leg extension machines. You can get the quads strong while seated but it really doesn’t help get you functionally stronger.

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