I recently had a conversation with a woman named Sherry (not her real name) who came to me for advice. She told me she does 500 crunches a day. The first thing that came to my mind was, why is she doing 500 crunches per day. Is the goal solely to complete 500 reps, to see abdominal definition, or to improve athletic performance or daily function?
So, after figuring out out what she wanted to accomplish, I gave her a few tips that would help her out, which I have listed below. After thinking more on it, I came up with several more tips, that I thought I’d share with you here. So, here’s 12 thoughts on core training. Please keep in mind this is by no means a complete list of everything core related. That would take to long, and to be honest I do not have all the answers (but I do have some good one’s). It is simply a starting point to build a better routine, than doing 500 crunches.
1 – Don’t simply go through the motions
To properly perform abdominal crunches (or any exercise for that matter), don’t just go through the motions. As you come up contract the abdominals hold for a second in the top position and slowly lower yourself back to the floor. When done properly, you can make more progress with fewer reps.
2 – Stop trying to isolate the muscle
If you’re going to train the core for athletic performance (which I later found was Sherry’s goal), then stop trying to isolate your abs solely with crunches. To strengthen the muscles of your core train the way the body moves and use resistance with a medicine ball or sandbag if necessary.
3 – Train for Function
Building on the last thought, Sherry, mentioned she enjoys tennis and plays regularly, so she to improve her game and avoid injury she needs more than just crunches.
To strengthen her core and improve her tennis game, I had her try full sit ups, which she could not do very well (due to weak hip flexors and low back), plank holds, resistance band side rotations as well as hip bridges to strengthen her glutes, hamstrings and low back. This brings me to my next point…
4 – Think movements, not exercises
If your goal is to increase your core strength, improve daily function or athletic performance, be sure to include these four movements into your workouts.
Hip Flexion – examples include: sit ups, and alternating V-ups
Rotary Stability aka Trunk Rotation – example include: Russian twists, and cable wood chops
Anti – Extension aka Core Stabilization – examples include: planks and renegade rows
Anti – Lateral Flexion – Weighted carries and side planks
5 – Work the Back Side of the Core
Your lower back and hips are included in the core as well. Hip extension – examples include: hip bridges, reverse hypers, and good mornings.
6 – Work Big Muscles to Burn Fat
Whether you want to lose weight or gain lean muscle, adding compound movements in your program to help you get the most bang for your buck can deliver faster results. Deadlifts, Squats and Pushups, and Turkish Get Ups are good examples of such movements.
Compound exercises also transfer better to daily activities and sport performance, which could help in Sherry’s tennis game as well. Not very often do you find yourself laying on your back doing something that resembles a crunch. Our bodies are designed to work using multiple muscles simultaneously. Real activities require squatting, bending, pulling, pushing, and twisting, which all resemble compound movements.
7 – Stick with Tried and True Exercises
While there are a lot of cool videos out there on YouTube, Facebook and other social sites showing the latest and greatest spins on your favorite exercises, most of them are unnecessary, and probably are not recommended for most activity levels. I think I saw a video demonstrating 20 different pushup variations, and I’m not gonna lie it was pretty cool. Several variations worked the core pretty good too, however a handful of variations will do the job and keep you from getting bored. The classics are the classics because they work and have been working.
8 – Train Asymmetrical to target the core
Exercises like rows, bench press and military press can become great core exercises when you do them asymmetrically – one arm at a time (typically with dumbbells or kettlebells) and do them heavy. One of my favorites is the kettlebell single arm overhead press, which when done with a good sized kettlebell becomes a great core strengthening exercise.
9 – No Best Exercise
Now, I’ve listed several exercises above, but keep in mind there is no best exercise for everyone. Your best exercise depends on your individual strengths and weaknesses, and if you have any nagging injuries you may need to work around. Instead of searching for the best exercise, find a few good ones and rotate them in your program for variety.
10 – There is No Best Piece of Equipment
You may have many tools available at your disposal: stability balls, kettlebells, sandbags, medicine balls, barbell or your own bodyweight to name a few, but there isn’t one piece of equipment that is the absolute best. They all have a purpose. Try different things to see what you like and respond to best.
11 – Eat Better Food
Keep in mind there’s no magic exercise that will shrink your waistline. Exercises will strengthen the muscles, while burning fat from all over your body (not just one area). To slim your waist, make sure you’re also cutting out excess calories in your diet to lose inches as well.
12 – Rest Your Muscles
Your core muscles need recovery just like your other muscles so make sure you give them adequate recovery after working them.
That wraps up 12 thoughts on the core. If you have any thoughts, questions or feedback, feel free to send me a message to Workout Quest and let me know.