Shaping Up: The Core

Yes folks, it’s six-pack abs time! Or as KT (Katie Douglas) likes to call it, “Fifty-Minute Abs.” Abs are the pinnacle. We’ve talked about the importance of core strength, and in the previous week, we addressed the two other components of core strength. Now it’s time to address the abdominals...

Often when I discuss fitness with individuals, they think your abs are one giant muscle. But actually, your abs are made up of a few muscles, including the retus abdomonis, transverse abdomis, external obliques, and internal obliques. We have thoroughly addressed the importance of making your core the focus of your workouts, but let’s dispel a few myths.

Lisa Ciaravella stretching Jamie Carey before a game. Q: Can I make my stomach or abs look better by doing more crunches?
A: You can do sit-ups, crunches or Russian twists all day, and you will make some generalized, marginal strength gains. But unless your caloric intake and calorie consumption level is adjusted so that you are burning more calories then you are consuming, the abs will never pop.

Q: How do I design a workout for my upper and lower abs?
A: Truth is that your abs are made up of four main muscle groups that are not oriented into specific upper and lower units. The difference when you are performing crunches or reverse crunches is the lever system. You are still working the group of muscles, just in different ways.

Q: My back hurts, so should I do abs? A: Yes, Yes, Yes! I am not saying this applies to everyone, and you should definitely consult a physician if you are experiencing back pain. A lot of back problems are due to poor core strength, but not all. If you have a history of back problems, that is all the more reason to stay on a consistent core program. It is important to recognize that we are talking about a core program, not just crunches. Remember, core involves the combination of back, abs and hip exercise. Yes, you may have to modify some things, but do not be afraid of core work.

Here are some beginner exercises to help you get your core program off the ground. These are foundation exercises starting from the floor and working into an upright position. Remember we are trying to help you live a more functional lifestyle and your abs are working the most when your body is upright and functioning normally throughout your day, so I am starting you with some isolated exercises, and progressing in functional standing exercises.

Pilate’s Crunch 1

  1. Starts by tighten your abs by drawing your belly into your spine, slightly raise your shoulders off the ground and tuck your chin in.
  2. Lift your legs up to 90 degrees and squeeze a folded towel between your bent knees
  3. Keeping your abs drawn in, shoulder off the ground and arms straight by your side, lift your arms 180 degrees from the side of your body to over your head, and then back in a smooth controlled pace.
  4. Shoulders stay off the ground, and knees remain at a consistent 90 degrees throughout. You NEVER lose the drawn in belly position.
  5. Repeat for three sets of 10-20 reps.

Variation of Pilate’s Double Crunch

  1. Same as above, just place your feet on a stability ball.
  2. As you raise your arms overhead, extend your legs. And as you are drawing them back in, bring your knees back to 90 degrees.
  3. Repeat for three sets of 10-15 reps.

Pilate’s Rotation

  1. Start by tightening your abs by drawing your belly into your spine. Lift your legs up to 90 degrees and squeeze a folded towel between your bent knees
  2. Keeping your abs drawn in and arms extended to 90 degrees by your side,
  3. Keeping your abs drawn in, and knees bent gently, rock your bent knees side to side without touching the ground or losing the 90 degree angle at your hip.
  4. Make sure the movement is performed in a smooth controlled pace.
  5. Repeat for three sets of 10-20 reps.

See Lisa's previous column on BALANCE here.