Your core is arguably the most important aspect of your body that you should make sure is strong and stable.
Don’t believe me? By the end of this article you should be convinced. In fact, you should be itching to do a core workout by the end of this (I even give you a killer ab routine for you to try).
If you’re not, you can have your money back 😉
Feel better in your daily life
A strong and stable core doesn’t just mean that you can get in a few sit ups, it means creating an entire functional unit from your chest to your hips, around from your belly button to your spine, and everything in between.
Have you ever wanted to pick something up off of the ground? Squat a barbell? Pivot in a basketball game? All of these movements require support from your trunk, and you need to have a certain level of strength and stability in order to be able to safely perform these actions.
Have you ever had lower back pain, hip pain, or sciatica? The most common problem that causes these ailments is a weak core.
And again, when I say a “weak” or “strong” core, I mean as an entire functional unit. This means that every direction your core can move – flexion, extension, rotation – your core is able to adapt and move through the motion with strength.
There really is endless research about training core strength and stability for minimizing back pain and carrying out daily tasks.
Training the muscles that stabilize the trunk is also important for both muscle and joint injury prevention. A strong and stable trunk allows for better posture, increased mobility, and in some cases, increased performance. It improves balance, stability, coordination and body awareness.
Eliminating weak links between the trunk and the extremities allows for greater force to be used by those extremities, resulting in better performance. Finding the weakness, addressing it, and building strength is crucial for a well-rounded individual or athlete wishing to maintain a healthy and pain-free stature.
How should you train your core?
Two words: functional training.
This is a slightly overused term in the fitness world (especially on IG, sometimes I’m like how on earth is that movement functional sis). I find it can be confusing for some people as it is such a broad and vague term for describing exercise.
What is functional training?
To be fair, functional exercises cover a huge range of movements. Functional training just means that the exercise you’re performing can have a benefit to your daily life outside of your workout.
It’s not simply a movement that just gets your heart rate up or makes you sweat. It actually has a purpose in strengthening, stabilizing, or mobilizing a specific area of your body in order to make it better, or more functional, in your daily living.
Examples of functional exercises (for the whole body) include many compound exercises: such as
- squats and deadlifts,
- exercises that engage multiple planes such as forward/lateral movements (think lunges),
- rotational exercises that require the use of a twisting trunk such as medicine ball throws.
All of these movements can be mirrored in daily life: squatting down to pick something up, lunging to the side to reach something on a low shelf, reaching up high and twisting to place something on a tall shelf, etc. Other functional movement patterns are hinging, pushing, pulling and walking.
So how do these relate to your core?
Basically you want to train the core in every plane to strengthen the whole trunk. Simply doing crunches every workout won’t really give you the functional stability we’re looking for.
Try to do every movement and its opposite. If you’re doing crunches (trunk flexion), also do supermans (trunk extension).
If you like doing russian twist (rotation), also do a movement that is anti-rotation, like a pallof press or plank shoulder taps.
Any exercise that utilizes your core strength through the motion of the exercise is a great way to stabilize the core over time.
How often should you do abs?
There’s really so many variables that determine this answer. If you’re doing all of the compound lifts as stated above, then my answer would be rarely.
If you don’t lift weights and aren’t training your core indirectly, you’ll need to incorporate functional core training in your routine to eliminate risk of injury (don’t end up like me, read about my injuries!).
In general, I’d say to make sure you are targeting your core (no matter the method) at least 1-2x per week. It really depends on how much you train and how experienced you are, but everyone can benefit from a stronger and more stable trunk.
Best core exercises
Ideally, like I said above, if you’re weightlifting (which everyone should be!), you’ll be doing squats, deadlifts, RDL’s, and lunges.
These exercises are INCREDIBLE for your core, and so long as you’re doing these lifts with a few extra functional core exercises for good measure, you’ll have a super strong and stable core.
If you’re not comfortable with doing these compound movements with added weight, try some of these:
This can be a KILLER workout if you focus on slow and controlled movements! Try to aim for 2-3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise (each side if it involves unilateral movements). Have fun!
Plank hand reaches (anti-rotation)
KB pull through (stabilization)
Plank slider walk (strength in motion)
V-up rolls (total trunk)
Your abs are a group of muscles that will grow with progressive overload, just like any other muscle group. However, how visible they are depend on your overall body fat %.
If you have a higher body fat percentage, you likely won’t have as visible abs as someone with a very low body fat percentage.
Genetics also play a role – different bodies store fat in different areas. Some people store more fat around their butt & thighs. Others on their abdomens. And even others on their arms. It really depends on the body, and some of us just don’t have the genetics to have a chiseled six pack all the time.
Please remember that visible abs aren’t necessarily an indication of how strong/fit someone is! Focus on your own journey, creating a stable and strong core.
Make sure you get to see every gym session. Make sure you’re able to move your belongings when they’re packed in heavy boxes. Make sure you can play with your kids and run around with them. Take care of your body for the reasons we need it most. And give it lots of love.
You want to train your core. Less for the visible abs, more for the long-lasting and life-changing effects it can have on your health & mobility.
Experiment with new exercises that challenge you – don’t simply search for the “burn,” think about why you’re doing every movement. How is this going to help you move better in daily life?
Have fun with your training! It’s incredible the mental and physical barriers we can break when we get out of our comfort zones. Test your body and make it the best it can be.
Akuthota V, Ferreiro A, Moore T, Fredericson M. Core stability exercise principles. Current sports medicine reports. 2008;7(1):39-44. doi:10.1097/01.CSMR.0000308663.13278.69
Oliver GD, Adams-Blair HR. Improving core strength to prevent injury. Journal of physical education, recreation & dance. 2010;81(7):15-19.
Peate WF, Bates G, Lunda K, Francis S, Bellamy K. Core strength: a new model for injury prediction and prevention. Journal of occupational medicine and toxicology. 2007;2(1):1-9. doi:10.1186/1745-6673-2-3