We’re a society infatuated with shredded body parts, particularly the abs. In the last decade, we’ve gone from 6-minute abs to an obsession with “core training” – thank goodness, because we all know there’s no way we’re getting abs in six minutes per day! However, every person seems to have his or her own thoughts on what core training really is. While one woman believes she can crunch her way to a strong core, another spends countless minutes planking. The thing is, neither of these is incorrect, yet, alone, neither are going to get you where you want to go. In order to achieve core strength and stability, you need to address all facets of the core musculature.
The muscles of the core work to create movement, control movement and prevent movement. So, while some muscles (namely the deep stabilizers) respond well to isometric exercises like planks, the movers (think obliques and rectus abdominis/six-pack area) are keen on dynamic movements. Basically, to successfully train your core, you need to throw an array of movements and positions into your training arsenal.
The Benefits of Core Training
Core training is something everyone can benefit from – it doesn’t matter if you’re the fittest gal in the gym, there’s a good chance you would benefit from improved core function. As far as specific benefits, there are plenty.
Improving core strength can improve performance in the gym, and in any sports you may participate in, by enhancing the ability of your core to produce more power in your extremities to facilitate torque transfer. To put it simply, a strong core will allow you to transfer power from your lower body to your upper body. This benefit will also transfer to regular, everyday activities like getting your squirming kids in and out of the car or lugging your checked baggage into your trunk.
A stronger core may also help keep you from getting sidelined. When your core is weak, your spine does the brunt of the work, often resulting in hip and/or back pain. Strengthening the muscles will take the load off of your spine not to mention improve the alignment of your lower extremities, reducing your risk of injury in your hips, knees and ankles.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
How much weight and/or fat you lose with core training is entirely dependent upon your training method. If you opt to knock out a few bicycle crunches and planks before calling it a day, you likely won’t notice much of a change. On the other hand, if you push yourself with higher intensity exercises such as mountain climbers, burpees, and heavy strength training, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll notice a smaller you emerging.
If your goal is to lose those extra pounds, the key is to not rely solely on abdominal exercises, but rather to engage the entire core through full-body movements. Performing these movements in a circuit or interval fashion is your best bet to reaching your goals.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
Similar to losing fat, building muscle will depend on your training. Implementing full-body movements that target the core through resistance such as squats, deadlifts and unilateral exercises is the most effective way to build muscle while also strengthening your core.
As for actual core-specific exercises, isometric exercises will do little to build muscle simply for the fact that they target muscles that are designed for endurance rather than strength. Adding resistance to dynamic core exercises, will definitely help to build the superficial six-pack muscles of the core.
Classes: What to expect; should I take them?
Classes for core training can be found in most gyms, whether it’s core-specific training or a workout class that spends a portion of the time working the core. In most classes, you’ll be guided through a workout of some sort that will probably use muscles you didn’t even know you had. Classes are also great for mixing things up with fresh exercises so you don’t get stuck in a core training rut.
As far as weather or not you should take a class, that’s entirely up to you. You could definitely manage to give your core a brutal working over from the comfort of your own home. However, if you find that you have a habit of stopping an exercise as soon as you feel a little uncomfortable, or you’re just not sure if you’re doing it right, go ahead and take a class. The instructor will help you nail the form, make sure you feel the exercises in all the right places and push you farther than you probably thought possible.
Instructional Core Training Videos and Tips
If you’re not completely sold on taking a class but not sure if your training is on point, the internet is loaded with core training videos. Here are a few great ones we dug up.
- Avoid machines and opt for exercises that require core stabilization, including unilateral movements, movements on unstable surfaces and heavy resistance exercises.
- Speaking of heavy resistance exercise, you may not think of those kind of movements as core training, but, I assure you, they are. Every muscle in your core works hard during heavy lifts to stabilize your spine and torso. Without those muscles working overtime, you would crumple right over.
- Integrate movements of the upper and lower extremities to facilitate torque transfer. These can include anything from the quadruped bird-dog exercise to a woodchopper to a push-press, depending on how intense you want to take it.
- Incorporate static and dynamic exercises into your routine to ensure all of the muscles and movements of the core are accounted for.
- Choose a mix of at least four core exercises to perform for each workout.
- Aim for three to five sets of each exercise.
- Perform 10 to 20 repetitions of the dynamic exercises. Once you can successfully complete three to five sets of 20 repetitions, go ahead and add resistance to the movement.
- With isometric exercises, begin with a one-to-one work to rest ratio. Start with 20 seconds of each, gradually increasing your time by 10 seconds until you reach 60 seconds.
Clothes and Proper Attire
Core training requires the same type of clothes you’d wear for any other workout. Sports bra, tank top and shorts will suffice. Whether or not you wear shoes depends on your style and where you’re training. If you’re at a gym, you should probably don some type of footwear – minimalist styles are ideal for protecting your feet without the added bulk of traditional cross-trainers. If you’re training at home, keep it au naturel and go barefoot.
You may want an exercise mat if you’re doing a lot of floor-based movements to give you better traction and keep your spine from digging into the floor.
Core Training Program
Results and Success Stories
Despite the fact that we can’t spot-reduce our way to a killer core, implementing core training into your routine can do wonders for your physique.
“I’m a mom of two (2 and 4 yrs old), wife, cattle rancher, co-owner for an Ag and Steel Supply business, training and development consultant, and a fitness coach. I wear many hats and am on the go!
I have always enjoyed fitness and grew up playing basketball. Working out has always been a part of my life (most of the time I’m doing fitness program DVD’s like PiYo, Core De Force, 22-Min Hard Core, etc.).
Food – I LIKE IT! I’m not one of those people that gets busy and then says, “I forgot to eat.” Nope…not me – EVER! I think about food all the time. So, learning to eat good food (that tastes good and is good for me) in the right portions has been HUGE.
Since I am doing physical ranch work, carrying kids and loads of “stuff” (groceries, 5-gallon water jugs, laundry, bags upon bags, etc.), I know the importance of having a strong core and taking the time to do core training. Core training for me, prevents or at least lessens potential injury, allows me to feel strong and do the physical requirements of my “work”, as well as build strength in other areas of my body (i.e. I’m able to do a few pull-ups as well as more push-ups). My core physique has mostly changed due to my refocused efforts on thinking about my food as healthy fuel for my body and eating good-for-me foods in the correct portions.”