Getting to the Core of Your Ab
By Steve Edwards
From the Million Dollar Body Club - Join Today and Workout to
Core is the new abs.
Translation: Those chiseled six-packs you see adorning magazine covers these
days are achieved by working the entire midsection, not just the abdominal
muscles. So chuck your Ab Lounge, Ab Roller, and your 30-second ab routine and
read on to see what could land you on the cover of Maxim.
This is the part where I confess to a
bit of hyperbole. Those six-packs are mainly a function of the individual's
body-fat percentage, not how strong their core muscles are. Those gimmicky ab
workouts can be okay as part of your program. And hiring a publicist
will do far more for your hopes of appearing in Maxim than any amount
of time in the gym. Oh, and one more thing: most of those models don't look
like that all of the time. As one of them put it to me at a shoot, "I can't
wait to eat. You think I look like this all the time? That would be sooooo
Now that we've got that out of the
way, let's get down to the business of creating a healthy core.
Isolation training, or training
individual muscle groups, was all the rage for a couple of decades. Probably
spurred on by Arnold in the iconic bodybuilding movie, Pumping Iron,
people were creating exercises to isolate one muscle at a time and blast it
into submission. As these exercises trickled away from Muscle Beach and into
the mainstream, the one that stuck more than any other was the crunch.
The crunch is a great isolation
movement. Plus, it's relatively easy and you can work your abdominal muscles
into a state of rigor mortis within minutes. And, actually, it worked pretty
well for bodybuilders. After all, they aren't movement-based athletes. And,
since they spent so much time in the gym, isolating the abs wasn't so bad
because they isolated every muscle group. By skipping that last tidbit, this
spawned an entire industry of quick-fix workout gimmicks promising that you,
too, could look like Arnold. But instead of dedicating your entire life to body
sculpting, these promised similar results in a few minutes of ab isolation.
The rise of
Functional training is basically
exercising using movements that you'll encounter in everyday life. It grew out
of physical therapy, which makes sense as more and more people were landing in
PT units because they'd been injured due to isolation training. What they found
was that isolation training was creating muscular imbalances. This is,
essentially, where one muscle group becomes stronger than it's supposed to be
compared to others. When this happens it's easy to get injured.
It's hard to create a muscular
imbalance in your natural life. If you run, for example, your body naturally
responds in a way where it uses all the muscles it can to help the movement.
This includes what are called your prime mover muscles and your stabilizer
muscles. In isolation training, the prime movers would get isolated because
those were the muscles that you could see. This would create major imbalances
and the stabilizers would often get no attention at all.
Your core and its function
Functional training starts with your
core: the middle of your body where virtually all movements begin. A strong
core creates a base to work from. If this base is solid, your chances of
getting injuries decrease greatly. Because of this, functional training
programs spend the majority of their time working on this area.
This might sound
like isolation but it's not, because your core is not just your abs but all the
muscles that connect to your spine and pelvis. It's essentially all of the
prime mover and stabilizer muscles that you use to stay standing. For this
reason, core exercises often include balance movements. These include using
gadgets like balance balls, boards that wobble, golf balls, soft balls, and
foam rollers, but it also includes simple old-school movements like push-ups,
squats, and many yoga stances. All of these movements require body awareness
(balance) to keep you from falling over. It's exactly the opposite of a
Nautilus exercise machine or, say, a crunch.
Is isolation the root of injury and
Some functional trainers like to tell
you this but it's not true. There are many reasons why isolation movements
still exist. The main one is sports. Sports create a reason for an athlete to
attempt to exceed their natural physique's strength ability in certain areas.
In order for a muscle to exceed its natural capacity for strength, it must
first grow. Isolation exercises are great for this. So, while fine tools, these
are only a piece of the athlete's pie. To avoid injury and increase
performance, athletes periodize their training, which means they do
various cycles of training that target different goals. An athlete may isolate
a muscle group for a training cycle but then they must switch their training to
functionally train this new muscle to work within the limitations of their
Your abs and you
So how does this affect you and how
you'll look at the company beach party? First, the bad news: you won't look
like Maria Sharapova by watching Oprah on your Ab Lounge. The good
news, however, is that you can create a great-looking midsection by training in
the way that's most beneficial to your body.
This is the point where I tell you
that a true six-pack is a phase. Like I said before, even most fitness models
don't walk around looking chiseled all the time. They try and stay fit and thin
but the duration of the ultra six-pack is fleeting. It's the same for many
athletes, who will often reduce their body fat to below healthy levels for
increased sports performance (because reduced weight at the same strength =
increase in power output). But they aren't always in this state. For a six-pack
to appear, most men need to get below 10 percent body fat and women under about
14 percentabdominal muscle strength has nothing to do with it. Athletes
are better off doing most of their training a little above this and losing the
last bit for competition. This is because body fat helps your defense
mechanisms. Some fat is needed to avoid injury and illness. Where you are
concerned, the state of the six-pack should be something you target for some
photos or, perhaps, a beach party. Your daily life goal should be a slim
midsection. Tony Horton's Core Cardio workout is ideal for reducing body fat
while strengthening your core.
a healthy core
If you will commit to exercising, it's
not all that difficult to ensure that your core is sound. Functional trainers
love to use the word balance. And not just in regards to standing on a wobbly
board. Balance in both your life and how you exercise will help you center
yourself in more ways than one. Here are a few tips to ensure you're getting to
the core of your workouts.
- Work your entire
body. Whatever your workout program is, make sure it works on
everything. Not just your core but your arms, legs, hands, and feet. Everything
is connected to your core, like branches of a tree. Whatever workout program
you choose should, at least a little bit, stress every muscle in your body. No
one with an overweight body has ripped abs. It can't happen.
- Periodize your
training. No matter how great your routine is, change it sometimes.
Using various programs helps you work different muscles and create new engrams
(neuromuscular brain patterns), which results in keeping your body
- Do some yoga or
Pilates. Even if you hate it. Yoga, particularly, is the oldest
functional training program there is. You don't need to do Shiva the
destroyer's Power Yoga program. The basic old-school movements will be plenty
to round out your workouts. Or for a fun yoga workout, try Yoga Booty
Ballet® Master Series Yoga Core.
- Do some balance
work. These workouts can be hard, mentally taxing, and kind of boring.
But you don't need to spend 45 minutes balancing on one leg under a skateboard
on top of a golf ball to see results. Just sitting on a balance ball at your
desk is very helpful. Any balance work is better than none.
- Alter your
crunch. You can still crunch and, of course, you still need to work
all of your midsection muscles. A simple balance element, like lifting your
legs as you crunch, turns an isolation ab movement into a core movement.
Keeping your legs off the ground, and straight, contracts something called your
transversus abdominis (TVA). This is the muscle responsible for holding your
gut in (Another good TVA exercise is simply sucking your belly button in as far
as you can). You'll start recognizing variations of these movements by staying
present, aware, and observing life, which is another good exercise. Or you can
do crunches with a Squishy Ball, as in the Yoga Booty Ballet programs.