Gone are the days of endless crunches and sit-ups, Russian twists, and anything on an “Ab machine”.
It’s interesting how the word “core” is becoming almost like a fad term; often used as a marketing technique to promote the latest and greatest exercise.
Well guess what? Almost none of that shit you see on the infomericals work. Standing on a wobble board while balancing a beach ball on your nose is not going to make your core stronger.
However, there is some good out there.
Thanks to the recent efforts of spinal researcher Stuart Mcgill, we have found that the above exercises are not only inferior to the exercises that I’m about to show you; they’ve also proven to be detrimental to the health of your lower back.
Now, this is not to say that if you’ve done crunches on the daily for the last five years that you’re completely doomed, but if you haven’t had lower back problems yet, you probably will in the near future.
In order to prevent this, I’m going to give you a simplified explanation of why crunches and sit-ups (two of the more popular “core” exercises) are not the most effective exercises to train the core; and then I’ll show you what should be the meat and potatoes of any core training program, whether the goal is fat loss, muscle gain, and/or injury prevention and performance.
Let’s get started…
A Look at the Mechanics of the Crunch
If you take a look at how the conventional crunch is performed, you will understand that they are not the best exercise for an athlete; especially someone who is injury-prone.
As you can see, the crunch puts your lower back as well as your upper back into a rounded position (flexion), which has been shown to cause disc herniations, if performed exhaustively.
Crunches can also have a negative effect on your posture; and we all know, most peoples’ posture isn’t where it needs to be.
During the crunch, your shoulders are rounded forward, which can often lead to that “slumped” posture, which is referred to as kyphosis.
Conventional crunches and sit ups also have been shown to shorten the hip flexors, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing, especially in a society that sits way too often.
So, as you can see, crunches and sit ups are not the best option for someone trying to have an overall balanced core training program; and also someone who is working to prevent injuries.
Now, I’m not closed-minded. I understand that crunches and sit ups will usually not cause much harm if they’re done properly and sparingly; but to be honest, I’ll live by the cliché “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Superior Core Exercises
An often misunderstood concept is the fact that the core is designed for stability.
The core does not promote motion; it prevents it and works to stabilize the spine.
I don’t want to get into this too much, as it can be an entire series of articles in itself; but luckily, Mike Robertson has an excellent series on his blog called Understanding Your Abs.
The first part has a great explanation of the true “function” of the core; check it out here.
Now, on to the exercises.
I will give you the exercise, as well as a progression if you feel the exercise is much too simple for you.
Here we go…
The Front Plank
Starting with the basics; the front plank is a great exercise to train the core properly. It promotes stability, and it activates the external obliques, which are crucial to correct posture.
But, it will only give you good results if you do it properly. And, unfortunately, most people don’t.
Here is a great explanation by strength coach Bret Contreras (check out his blog here):
The key is that you don’t relax in the plank position. If you can perform a front plank for a minute straight without shaking endlessly, you’re doing it wrong.
Follow the tips from Bret Contreras, and focus on quality, not quantity.
If you feel this variation is to easy, elevate your feet and apply the same concepts.
Stir the Pot
I spoke of spine researcher Stuart McGill earlier; I should also mention an exercise that he has popularized. And it is no joke.
This exercise will challenge all aspects of core stability, and it is great for “core athleticism”.
Here it is explained by McGill himself (skip to 4:45 in the video).
If just “stirring” in a circular motion becomes too easy for you, you may go up and down, side to side, or any direction you want; as long as you remain stable and in proper position.
Half-Kneeling Anti-Rotation Press
This exercise will require a bit of equipment, which should be present at any gym; either a cable column or a resistance band.
The exercise is self-explanatory; and it trains the anti-rotation function of the core.
It looks simple because it is. But, it is very challenging and very effective.
Once you master the half-kneeling variation, you may move on to tall-kneeling, and even standing.
I hope you guys enjoyed the article and learned some valuable lessons and tips that you can apply to your training right away.
Now, I spoke a lot about the function of the core from an injury prevention and athletic standpoint, but you may be asking: what if I just want a shredded six pack?
The answer is: whether you have a six pack or not is based on muscular development at a low body fat. Copious amounts of crunches will not remove the layer of fat covering your abdominals.
So if you want six pack abs, focus on your diet. The exercises above will lead to some very developed abs, as long as you have low enough body fat to show them.
If you have any questions, drop a comment below or shoot me an email via my contact page.
Also, be sure to sign up for my newsletter in the upper right hand corner to receive a free E-book revealing the top 50 workout mistakes, and how to avoid them.
Keep working hard.