The 'core' is much more than just the abs or the six-pack muscle. Core musculature is the hub of the body; the foundation of much of our daily movement. For some individuals, this hub is surrounded by a fat tire! The primary role of these muscles is to stabilize the spine, keep us upright and transfer forces from one area of the body to another. Approximately 29 different muscles work in three planes of motion: lumbar spinal flexion, extension, and rotation. Funnily enough, most gym-goers don't train their core to better stabilize their spine, even though this is by far it's fundamental and most dominant function. One of the most popular ab exercises is the crunch, which can actually be hard on your back, and despite its prevalence is not that effective in functionally strengthening the core. There is a better way.
If your core training is limited to crunches, you are likely building an asymmetrical house of cards. A well-rounded core training program that properly engages movement patterns while building better performance is essential.
Core stability comprises 4 different facets: strength, endurance, flexibility, and functional motor control. The ability to protect the spine and properly move through space is the foundation we must build upon. Strength, endurance and flexibility should be secondary to functional motor control. Training the abs and core as a stabilizing force with isometrics, anti-flexion/extension and anti-rotational challenges will ensure a healthy foundation. Research has shown that athletes with higher core stability have a lower risk of injury.
A strong core enhances balance and general stability. A well-developed core can help prevent falls and injuries during sports or other activities. In fact, a strong, stable core underpins almost everything we do. Fortunately, we can adequately train our core without doing a bunch of traditional ab only exercises. The core muscles are taxed while performing the majority of multi-joint traditional exercises, including deadlifts, squats, lunges, pullups, push-ups, Olympic lifts, runs, jumps, etc... Doing these exercises regularly will work the core and one need not devote any separate training to them.
Not-so-fun fact: The million crunches you perform do little to burn the fat around your waist. In addition to creating an imbalance, they may hypertrophy (make larger) the muscles in your ab region, causing subcutaneous fat to be pushed outwards and giving the appearance of a larger belly. You can’t spot-reduce fat, but you sure can spot increase muscle!
I like to work my abs in a 'functional way' that engages as many muscles as possible. More bounce for the ounce. Below are some exercises you may want to add to your training regimen. Taken together, they are a superbly holistic core hub workout.
1. Single Arm Farmer's Walk
2. Standing Anti-Rotation Circles
3. Split Stance Medicine Ball Chop Without Rotation
4. Landmine Twist
5. Single Arm Superman Plank