The core is without a doubt the most important area in terms of injury prevention and athletic performance; it is also the area that most people would like to improve.
Everywhere you look there is a new device that promises you that coveted six pack, the problem is that everyone has a six pack but for most it is covered by a layer of fat. This is where the myth of “Spot Reduction” comes into play. Spot reduction refers to a false exercise idea that if you do lots of crunches you will lose fat in the area that you are working which is the reason why so many people spend endless amounts of time doing crunch and other various abdominal exercises.
This is wrong for many reasons, one your body does not lose fat in just one area, it sheds its fat throughout the entire body in different stages. The first place that you notice someone has lost weight is in their face and unfortunately one of the last places you will lose fat is in your mid section.
Another problem with doing endless amounts of crunches is that you will develop an imbalance in your body, your abs will be strong but your lower back will be weak, which can lead to injuries and improper posture; there is no point in having a six back if your posture has you hunched over.
Crunches also fail to give you functional abdominal strength; your abs are what link your lower body to your upper body and for this reason their main role is to stabilize your entire body as well to twist your body. Crunches or sit-ups with your feet under a bench isolate your rectus abdominis (a.k.a. abs or six pack), and the problem there is that during run of your daily activities, your body never calls on just your rectus abdominis to do the work by itself. It calls on other muscles such as your transverse abdominis, hip flexors, obliques and your spinal erectors, as well as your rectus abdominis to work as one functional unit.
Try this test to see how your “abs” work. Lie down in your traditional sit-up position with you feet flat on the ground with nothing to anchor them down, knees bent and your arms extended by your sides with your palms on the ground. Now try to perform a sit-up – no violent herky jerky movements – come up slowly under control, slide those hands along the ground towards your feet as and keep those feet firmly planted in the ground. If you can perform a complete sit up without your feet leaving the ground, congratulations, your “core” works as one functional unit.
If you did not perform a sit up your transverse abdominis is weak. The transverse abdominis is the deepest muscle of the abdominal wall; it runs horizontally from your last six ribs all the way around to your back where it attaches to the pubic bone. This muscle serves as a natural weight lifting belt or like a corset, it stabilizes your spine and for this reason it is commonly referred to as the most important abdominal muscle.
The best way to work your transverse abdominis is to perform an exercise called the plank (see above). To perform a plank, assume the push-up position but rest on your elbows and toes rather than your hands and toes. Ensure that your body is aligned; your shoulders, hips, knees and toes should all be in one straight line. Maintain that position but try to pull your belly button to your spine. Try to hold it for 30 seconds for beginners and 1-2 minutes for more advanced. To really challenge yourself place your elbows on a Swiss Ball, just make sure that your elbows are directly under your shoulders and you are on your toes. This exercise works your abs in a more functional manor; very rarely do you perform a crunch or side bend movement that makes up the bulk of most people abdominal routines.
Performing planks and twisting movements will go a lot further in creating a strong core that is resistant to injuries. Some of the best abdominal exercises are ones that you wouldn’t even think work the core such as: squats, dead lifts, standing push-press’, standing bent over rows.
All of these exercises require a lot from your core – just maintain a correct posture. These will make your six-pack as strong as possible; as far as seeing that six pack – proper nutrition is key.