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It’s not just about abs, people. Proper core training improves foundational strength that carries over to every other exercise, decreases low back pain, fortifies you against injury and aids in functional movements. The easiest way to think about what exactly constitutes the core is to place a finger at the top of your abdomen near the sternum, and another at the bottom of your glutes. Include all the muscles between those two points, deep and superficial, and you have your core muscles. If you are just looking to build a stunning sixer, take a closer look at your diet. Here are five ways you can better construct a solid core, in the truest sense of the word.
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The most common core training mistake: too many crunches and sit-ups. People like to feel that abdominal burn, thinking the fat will disappear from their stomachs and that their core will become strong. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Crunches and sit-ups just can’t reach those “deep” core muscles – in this case, the transverse abdominis – that need to be strengthened.
One great alternative to sit-ups and crunches is the Turkish get-up. The Turkish get-up is a perfect blend of mobility, stability, functional movement, proprioception and core strength. The abundance of moving parts in this exercise provides a great stimulus for the core, as well as other strength and movement benefits. If you want to feel your abs burn, do some heavy get-ups with a weight that is heavy enough to activate the deep muscles of your core.
Do you remember those good old abdominal exercise wheels that you always saw in people’s basements next to all of their workout gear? Well, don’t throw it away just yet – as it turns out, they are amazing core-builders. Those new to the rollout, on a first go, will either fail before full extension, or experience some low back pain. That is because that type of movement really hits those deep abdominals muscles of the anterior core. You want to avoid extension in the back, and need to engage your anterior core in order to do so. Can’t quite complete a full-ROM rep with the wheel? Try a stability ball instead. This version is easier because of the inherently shorter range of motion, which is better on the back. Other variations include the Ab Dolly, dumbbells, barbells, or even a slide board.
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Lumbar pain is a common complaint for hard-training athletes – but it doesn’t have to be. You can fortify yourself against this kind of pain, among other methods, by increasing lumbar stability. In order to do this, you need to fire some deep core stabilizers by not moving your hips when in certain positions. Two good approaches: 1) Avoiding too much rotation of the lower back area 2) doing various types of plank exercises. Loaded carries and planks prevent rotation and increase strength of the muscles that stabilize the lumbar spine. The farmer’s carry, suitcase carry, planks and side planks are all great options.
The core muscles are stabilizers first. That is why bridges and planks are so crucial for core strength. But, if you look at the anatomy of the core muscles and their actions, about 70 percent or so involve rotating but not at the expense of rotating at the lumbar spine or lower back. So, you should include anti-rotation exercises where you rotate from the waist up, but not at the lumbar spine. The core musculature is then forced to stabilize against an aggressive or fast rotational force or collision, whether it is in sport or in life. Exercises such as half kneeling cable pressouts and goblet squats with pressout are both great choices.
You will notice that some of the people with the strongest core muscles don’t even do any core work. That is because they are focusing on multi-joint lifts (working more than one muscle group at a time) instead of single joint lifts (one muscle group at a time, such as biceps curl). When it comes to multi-joint moves, you have plenty to choose from: deadlifts, squat variations, lunges, kettlebell exercises, rows, medicine ball throws, Olympic lifts and powerlifts all stimulate a lot of muscle at one time. The core has no choice but to work hard to stabilize the spine as you perform these types of exercises. Certain machines allow you to work multiple muscle groups at once but they don’t have the kind of core demand that you’re looking for because of the fixed range of motion, meaning that less contribution is required of your core musculature. So instead of doing so many, triceps pushdowns, cardio and machine moves, stick to the basics.
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