Those who are familiar with our Results Based Fitness approach and goal specific programs will be aware of longstanding view on ‘core training’ and the overemphasis that’s been placed on specifically targeting the ‘core’ or the ‘abs’ – for both aesthetics and function!
Along with fat loss, ‘core’ strength is the thing that many people tell us is their goal. The conversation always makes for an entertaining interaction, but we think we’re on to something here. And our latest feature in the Evening Standard might be a sign that thinking is changing…..
It’s worth remembering that the ‘core’ training frenzy is the product of the findings of some research done on a small group of back pain patients in Australia, which the fitness industry picked up and ran a mock with. First off, the research was done on six people (it might be a couple more or less, but six rings a bell – correct us if we’re out); probably not enough upon which to sensibly build a whole training ethos. The subjects were in pain; these findings probably don’t apply to those of us not in pain in the first place. And the research looked specifically at the contraction of a single muscle; not generally how the body functions!
It’s an in depth and complicated area, but the fact is that ‘core’ training is not just about the muscles of the trunk, and most people do not suffer from a ‘weakness’ in the core. (There, we said it!). Granted stability and coordination may be an issue, but strength of the deep abdominal muscles, rarely. Yes, many people could do with following a decent overall strength training program, and lumbar-pelvic (lower back) mechanics are not what they should or could be, but all roads do not point to the deep lying muscles around the abs.
Lack of strength generally and too little or too much pelvic stability/mobility are certainly an issue, but the deep abdominal muscles are carrying the can when it’s not entirely their problem. Tight hips and weak (or under-active) backside muscles? You’ll likely have back pain. But it’s not specifically a ‘core’ issue. Tight hamstrings? You’ll likely and have back pain. Again though, this is not specifically a ‘core’ issue. Lack of mid-back mobility coupled with overactive lower back muscles? You’ll likely have back or neck pain. But neither is this a ‘core’ issue! I think we get the point…..
The ‘core’ extends to the mid/lower back muscles, the backside muscles, the lats, hamstrings and hip flexor muscles – in fact, anything that could impact on the pelvis might well be considered a ‘core’ muscle – and it’s simplistic to say that tightening the muscles around the abdominals will ‘strengthen the core’. Done in the right way, it won’t do any harm and may well contribute to decreased pain and improved overall strength, but your ‘core’ program needs to incorporate many other muscles, trained in more dynamic ways than just doing holds on a mat. Sure, train the abs, but don’t make ‘core’ training the focal point of your program.
Our top five ‘core’ training tips:
1. Limit spinal flexion
There’s a place for crunches, just not in everyones program, and not all of the time.
2. Address structural balance
Muscular balance, especially around the hips, is key. Think backside and lower back for example, not just abs.
3. Balance mobility and stability
You don’t have to be posture perfect (we’ve never met one of those), but the right balance of mobility/stability, especially at the pelvis, is key.
4. Get strong(er)
It’s not a meathead thing, it applies to everyone. Strong and structurally balanced people don’t tend to suffer from a ‘weak core’.
5. Get lean
Core training will not bring about a six pack unless you’re lean. You. Can. Not. Flex. Fat.