By Jane Ellis, Yoga Instructor and Personal Trainer from Keys2Fitness
When people think about their “core” more than likely their minds think of six-pack abs. Having ripped abs is certainly a motivating home fitness goal, and looking great lounging by the pool can help keep us encouraged to power through our workouts. However, these 6-pack abs aren’t always a good indicator of solid core strength. Let’s take a deeper look at what a strong core really means.
Whether your fitness goals include simply looking great in swimwear, improving your golf swing or being able to play with your grandchildren; core strength training is vital. You use your core muscles surrounding your trunk and pelvis every day while opening doors or picking up your child. The groups of muscles that make up your core include your abdominals, obliques, glutes, hamstring and back. Your core muscles are a platform that affects other muscles in the body such as your shoulders, arms and legs. And the strengthening of your core can help improve the performance of these peripheral muscles, improve your balance and greatly reduce injury.
Core muscles also stabilize the area around your spine, helping minimize the possibility of back injury. Hence why core strength is such a vital component to focus on, everything revolves around your center! It’s easy to think that traditional sit-ups and crunches will build a strong and stable core. Sit-ups do strengthen your rectus abdominis but sit-ups aren’t a functional movement we see in the real world. “We stopped teaching people to do crunches a long, long time ago,” says Dr. Richard Guyer, president of the Texas Back Institute. That’s because the “full flex” movement—the actual “crunch” part of crunches – puts an unhealthy strain on most people’s backs at its weakest point. Again we want to focus on the purpose of a strong core; to stabilize the torso. That’s why I recommend stabilizing exercises like planks to help people build stronger cores. You may also try several specific core exercises to stabilize and strengthen your core. Some examples of core exercises include hollows holds, bridges and side planks.
In everyday life, “the abdominals are braces,” says McGill, author of “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance”. When doing any athletic movement, even opening a door, “the spine is in a neutral position, not flexed, and the abdominal muscles are contracted to brace the spine.” Like the plank, the best exercises for back health and a firmer stomach are ones that work your abs while holding your spine straight, like push-ups or leg drops. And because your core is the center of power for most other exercises, a workout full of dynamic movements targeting legs, arms and back also translates to a good core workout.
Does this mean you should never do sit-ups again? I will leave it up to you….BUT since there are many variations and exercises to choose from, why would you do a sit-up? The crunch is a better alternative if you want to purely focus on the rectus abdominus muscle. Since crunches don’t involve the same range of motion that sit-ups do, they use less of the hip flexors, and also put less compression on the spine. But, if you want to perform a functional exercise, an exercise that will not only make your abs pop but also strengthen your body as a whole, then forget about the sit-up and start planking instead!
Jane Ellis is a registered Yoga Instructor with 6 years’ experience, as well as an ACE Certified Personal Trainer. Incorporating yoga with strength training has become her ideal balance for her clients. Jane puts emphasis on whole foods and understanding the role nutrition plays in becoming healthier. Jane practices what she preaches at the Personal Training Studio in Wyomissing, Keys2FItness. The local studio wants to help build a health oriented community and help their clients prioritize their health! They do not sell gym memberships, only personal training and boot camps customized for their clients’ specific goals and lifestyle! Call Keys2Fitness today to set up a free fitness assessment 484-577-4172