The “Core” Of The Matter
So many times I hear the phrase “I need to work on my core” by friends and new clients. By and large it seems they understand that to mean they want their mid-section to shrink. This common misconception is perpetuated by the the endless bombardment of infomercials, diet fads, and the latest greatest “ab-tastic” piece of equipment. There are many truths which have been proven as a result of controlled research studies. Unfortunately, these are overlooked by companies and individuals looking to make a quick profit by ignoring science and simply touting what they think people want to hear (i.e. the easy way).
I think before we talk about some of the myths that exist out there involving the core, we should effectively define it and its role. While there is some speculation as to exactly what muscles truly make up the core, I like to describe it as the area of deep intrinsic muscles between your hips and shoulders. These tiny muscles act as a corset to stabilize the spine and prevent extraneous movement. In athletics, these muscles transfer the forces from the legs to the extremities of the upper-body. Weak core muscles have been associated with muscle pulls, back and shoulder pain. To sum up, the core muscles primary purpose is to stabilize movement, not to create it.
Below, I debunk some common myths that I get asked about almost on a daily basis.
Number one – “If I do more crunches, I will lose my belly fat”:
You cannot spot reduce (lose fat) any areas of the body by solely focusing on them in your workout. I apologize to all of you who were up at 3 a.m. purchasing the Ab Buster last night. Sure, resistance training can help you build muscle, but you won’t see much of it until weight is lost by decreasing body fat. This is only done through a proper diet.
Number two – “My core is weak therefore more crunches and sit-ups must be the answer”:
Crunches and sit-ups are NOT core exercises. Both exercises involve repeated spinal flexion. Getting back to my previous point, the core muscles are meant to stabilize motion, not create it. On top of this, the movement of the crunch and sit up is the same mechanism as that which causes disc herniations.
Number three – “To help my back pain, I need to be doing more back strengthening exercises”:
While this may be true in some cases, typically we see back muscles that are already too strong because they are being used too often during low demand activities such as walking, standing on one leg, reaching, touching your toes or hitting a golf or tennis ball. We need to understand that our body will always take the path of least resistance and move in the area with the most mobility. If the hips and pelvic stabilizers are weak and tight then lower back compensation seems to dominate normal movements thus creating a strength imbalance and movement disorder in the lumbar-pelvic region.
Below are some examples of core stability training exercises I use with my clients:
* *For each exercise, make sure the abs are braced and a neutral spine is maintained.
Half-Kneeling Band/Cable Lifts – 2 x 8 (3sec. hold at the top)
Single Leg Cook Bridge – 6 x 5 sec. holds each leg
Shoulder Taps – 8 x 3sec. holds each arm
Ball Rollouts – 2 x10