No, this is not about building six-pack abs.
Scrap the notion of ab workouts being all about aesthetic goals. Today, I will show you why your abdominals are actually the most important muscle group to train, and how to do so.
For as long as time has existed, having a flat tummy and/or six-pack abs has been an obsession all around. Models on tv, our favorite serials, magazines, all advocate the same desire to be likewise. As a personal trainer, I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve heard “to have abs” as a response when we discuss goals during a personal training consultation. “I do sit-ups and crunches every day but still nothing.” My dear, you can do them until it hurts to laugh the next day. The results aren’t going to change as long as that’s all you do.
Don’t get me wrong, ab exercises and having is strong core is important, but more so when you do it the right way and for the right reasons. It is time to start appreciating this essential muscle group for what it’s worth instead of simply visually associating it with a 3 by 2 pack of Carlsberg cans.
So why is your rectus abdominis such a core muscle group (pun fully intended)? If you train and live mindfully, you will realize that it is truly your pillar of support. It is responsible and plays a huge part in your daily activities, as mundane and simplistic as they might all sound; getting out of bed, turning to reach out for the light switch, bending over to pick up your keys, and even breaking a fall. Hell, have you felt your abs ache after taking a huge dump? Yup, we use them there too.
Our abdominal muscles are connected to our spinal cord and hip flexors. They connect our upper and lower body. We even use them when we walk, be it up and down the stairs or simply down the street. So yes, they are your support system. They are what keep us upright. Having a strong core improves our posture, whether we are on the move or sitting at our desks at work, thus leading to lesser backaches which many of us face.
Your core is the tree trunk to the rest of your body, and the girdle to your spine. It holds everything intact and in place. Before you do anything, your body braces itself by firing up your core muscles. They are what supports your entire system in any activity performed. When you have a weak core, your body compensates by using other muscle groups. This is when injuries occur. Many injuries occur as a result of lack of stability due to a weak core. Your shoulders, back, hips and legs are all placed at risk. The most common issues people with a weak core face are with their lower back. By strengthening your core, you can help alleviate that seemingly unending, nagging lower-back pain that you can’t seem to get rid of.
How about when it comes to lifting or strength training?
Do your ribs pop out and your back arch when you perform an overhead press? Do your hips sag when you do a push-up and your stomach hit the ground before your chest does? Does your back hurt when you perform a deadlift? Do you find no other way than to round your back when you do so? Do you lose your balance easily when doing single-leg exercises such as lunges? When you squat – do you lean far too forward and cause your butt to pop up first as you are coming up? All these are common mistakes I’ve seen in the gym. Improper form, as a result of a weak core, which would probably lead to inevitable injuries should they carry on that way. Build your core. Build your core before you think about building anything else.
When it comes to strength training, there is a lot of mental awareness involved. The first step is to be aware of a particular muscle, in this case, your abdominals. Once you are aware, you will be able to activate it and know how it feels to have the muscle activated. Then only will you be able to engage it in everything you do, in all exercises?
Now, before you go all out and start adding a plethora of Russian twists and sit-ups to your workout, let’s talk ab exercises. You don’t have to do them as often as you think you do. In fact, some ab-centric exercises actually do more harm than good. Those such as the aforementioned that require repetitive flexion and rotation of the spine may cause lower back injuries if done too often or incorrectly. You would be better off sticking to isometric ab exercises such as planks which require stabilization and little to no movement that causes your spine to extend and contract. In fact, the best way to train your core is through compound exercises such as push-ups, squats, farmers’ walks, pull-ups, and lunges which utilize the core as its main stabilizing muscle and forces it to be engaged throughout in order to perform the exercises well and correctly. You don’t have to have a workout planned based on abs. Adding 1 or 2 ab-centric exercises to your routine is sufficient.
Compound exercises also work your whole body and engage multiple muscles throughout your body. You burn a lot more fat and calories. If that’s what you’re looking to do, follow the exercises in my previous article for a full-body workout that will get your adrenaline pumping, fat sizzling, and muscles working. Keep it up and you might end up seeing those packs appear, without even consciously trying. However much you work your abs, you have to lose the fat covering them in order to reveal your abs.
Remember, whether you have a family pack or a tummy a plane could land on, it’s what’s beyond skin deep that truly counts. Work it for the right reasons and the results will follow.