The Art of Training Your Core Correctly
It's kinda disappointing to see in this era of the fitness industry some godawful advice for core training - smattered about the memorabilia of Instagram Chick Videos are variations of the oddest looking crunches and sit-ups in between sets of squat jumping.
Admittedly, the term 'core training' seems to be turning into yet another buzzword for the industry to capitalise upon - yet with every cliche, there remains a grain of truth. The truth is, there's method to the madness of 'training core' - it aims to target all the muscles groups that stabilize the spine and pelvis. In addition, these muscle groups are vital for the transfer of energy from various parts of the body during physical exertion.
The muscles of the core region consist of the rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominise, and the internal and external obliques. This post will just quickly rundown the importance of each region, and how and why you should train them.
The rectus abdominis is arguably the most 'superficial' part of your core musculature region, and is essentially a long muscle which covers both of your upper and lower abdominals - hence why there's not 'set/specific' exercises to target it, unlike your obliques, for instance. It is also worked a lot during heavy lifting as your rectus abdomens helps to break and stabilise, and works to avoid flexion of the trunk under heavy load. (which is something you ought to be avoiding in your lifts.) The rectus abdominis is usually associated with sit ups/bicycle crunches, although this is less than ideal for those with lower back problems - and, to be honest, if you want to take your training seriously, shouldn't be used by the general populace as it actually encourages trunk flexion rather than discourages it, which can carry into not only your lifts but daily movement, potentially risking injury.
If your abdominals in general are quite weak, or you have tightness in the lower spine, it's always best to complement any of these exercises with oblique work, and reducing frequency and/or volume on lower back work.
Example exercises to be performing: Bodysaws, cable rope crunch, plank variations
Seeing as the term literally stems from the latin word obliquus, which means as diagonal or slanted, it comes as no surprise that one of the core (heh, sorry for the pun) components of training your obliques is rotation/twisting. In addition, the obliques help us out in all daily range of movements; when through rotation, twisting, turning, bending, running or even walking, the obliques help stabilise the core region to keep you upright and supported. It makes total sense therefore to think of your obliques as part of your armed militia in the quest for a trimmer waist. Twisting movements are key components here, but it should be noted that there can be a risk of rotating too much in the lumbar motion (lower back), so with all my clients I make sure that they are able to perform anti-rotational exercises (i.e. have decent core stability) and have good hip mobility before performing these type of exercises. Nonetheless, when done correctly they are amazingly effective at targeting the core - and are especially a useful tool in fashion and lingerie models' arsenal for staying lean and trim in the waist.
Example exercises to be performing: Landmine twists, farmer's walks, plank walk outs with knee to elbow twist
Your TVA (transverse abdominis) is essentially your your inner 'corset', and it is vitally important to train for posture and spinal health as well as aesthetics. Its main function is to activate the core musculature and stabilize the pelvis and low back before the body gets a chance to move. It also acts as a natural “weight belt” or muscular girdle by resisting flexion of the lumbar spine (lower back). The TVA keeps the cervical spine (neck) in a neutral position during training, and when properly strengthened, can improve posture, muscle balance and stabilization. A strong TVA is essential for both athletic performance and everyday living.
It's really important to consistently activate your TVA, for a lack of neural drive to the core muscles can create the belly to push outward, creating that lower belly 'pouch' everybody seems to whinge about. A huge contributing factor to a lack of neurological connection to muscles is often sedentarism, particularly as the core muscles (along with others) typically 'switch off' upon sitting down.
To counter this, don't just train in the gym for an hour and sit at a desk for eight - regular activity is a must not only for health and longevity, but to keep these muscles fired up as much as possible. When you are sitting down, sitting nearer the edge of the chair will force you to remain upright and activate your abs.
Example exercises to be performing: Ab/barbell rollouts, plank variations
Overall, a lot of people shy away from training their core for fear of them getting 'boxy' - that is, getting a wider waist rather than trimming it down. The truth is, is that in order to properly train your core, you cannot neglect one or more component - for example, if you just train your rectus abdominis without focusing on your TVA, it is quite possible you may get that 'pouch', as the RA responds to strength training by developing outward, whereas the TVA, your handy-dandy inbuilt bores, develops inward - kind of like Spanx for your abdominal muscles. Therefore, it's vitally important you train all of your core in a balanced and consistent way. Don't just include plank variations of body saws, but add in hollowing, bear crawls and roll outs too so you target the coveted 'tightened belt' area of your core region.