July 11th, 2020

Training Matters: Working your abs smarter

By Medicine Hat News on May 19, 2017.

NEWS PHOTO SEAN ROONEY - Volleyball player Jared Stach does some core exercises under the supervision of Ed Stiles at the Family Leisure Centre Thursday.

Six pack abs anyone? You will have to do some ab training to get there.

In the old days we did as much ab flexion as we could: Sit ups, crunchies and ab machine crunches galore. Then we’d throw in some lying leg lifts, hanging leg raises and Russian twists then maybe some back hyperextensions to finish things off.

Sadly many people still think this is the only road to that elusive corrugated midsection. They are — if you like waking up with back pain, or there is a physiotherapist or chiropractor you would like to visit.

All of the aforementioned exercises have been analyzed in countless studies for levels of muscle activation as well as corresponding shear and compressive forces exerted on the spinal column. Yes, indeed there are muscles stimulated, but at what cost? Does discal herniation sound debilitating to you?

Realize there are many alternatives that actually activate more muscles in a functionally sound way, that don’t put your back at risk. A well-rounded training plan hits the whole core, not just ab flexion but also stabilization, rotation, extension and mobilization.

For abdominal flexion, extension and mobility, the invention of the Swiss ball and follow-up Bosu ball have made a huge difference in our ability to train the core through its full functional range of motion. These tools have been the staple of many informed core training programs for more than 20 years. Local physiotherapist Dale Deis has patented a machine, the Complete Core, that capitalizes on the unstable nature and full range of motion the ball provides that hits the core from every angle. I challenge anyone with abs of steel to give this device an honest go: you’ll be back.

For whole core and abdominal stability there are planks and bridges; holding perfect posture under load is what these do for us, functional and effective, but don’t hold forever, hold it well. Challenge with increasing load, in standing and kneeling positions, incorporate them into every exercise, any lift done with a single arm while maintaining perfect posture. Now that’s functional. Try standing up straight and tall with all the groceries in one hand, you will feel the whole core musculature switch on. Or tilt your body, hang off the ligaments and let the core continue its snooze.

Then we have rotation, those Russian twists are tough on the spine as we rotate the trunk on top of a fixed pelvis. Much better is to stand up, throw a medicine ball and let those hips lead; that’s core integration. Cable chops, reverse wood chops, windshield wipers, as long as we allow the abs and hips to move as an integrated unit we are building an amazing core.

Don’t recognize all the different exercises named herein? Perhaps that’s an indication to access some education rather than continue with the same old harmful moves.

I’m also sorry I mislead you, this article looked like it was all about getting a six pack, when really I want you to have a healthy spine and a strong, limber and resilient midsection.

The true secret to seeing the abs beneath the insulation is to get serious about what you eat. But that’s a different article altogether.

Ed Stiles BPE, Certified Exercise Physiologist is a member of the Alberta Sport Development Centre’s Performance Enhancement Team and is the Fitness Coordinator at the Family Leisure Centre he can be reached via email at asdc@mhc.ab.ca or ed1sti@medicinehat.ca.

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