Tired of Crunches? Use These Exercises to Strengthen Your Core!
Abdominal, or “core” training as it’s more commonly called these days, is more than crunches and planks. In fact, you’re missing out big time if you’re only doing these exercises!
When talking about abdominal muscles, most people immediately think of the “6 pack” (rectus abdominis) and the obliques. That’s it, right?
Yes, these are major abdominal muscles, but there are several more. If you want to talk “core training, then you also have to include the glutes and other trunk muscles that you can’t see in the mirror.
“But how? How do I train these muscles and give them the attention they need?”
Do more than crunches and straight planks!
Before I jump into the exercises, let me say this: abdominal training IS NOT complicated. You do not need much equipment, or impressive looking exercises that look good on social media but do little more than give you a nice “burn” in your stomach. Remember, your goal with these exercises is to improve strength and stability that transfers to other exercises and activities you enjoy.
It is also worth mentioning that abdominal exercises DO NOT make your stomach flatter or your waist smaller. If your goal is to see these muscles, better nutrition needs to be your priority. One more time, for the people in the back:
Ab exercises don’t make your stomach flatter or your waist smaller. Focus on better nutrition and fat loss if you want to see these muscles.
Okay, onto the exercises!
Chops are a great exercise to work your obliques. You can do them kneeling to focus just on the abdominals, or do them standing to get the glutes involved. Do them starting low and finishing high, or the opposite. I’d recommend doing one from each direction. One way or another, just do them, and do them right! Start with 2-3 sets of 15 each side.
Your obliques are responsible for rotational movements, like the chop above. Did you know that they are also meant to resist rotation? They are, and that’s what this exercise is all about. Make sure your weight is even between your feet, and start with your hands about chest level at the center of your body. Push your arms straight forward, pause, and return to the start. Make sure you aren’t “stirring a pot” when doing this exercise. You can also hold for time, making this exercise kind of like a standing side plank. Try 2-3 sets of 15-20 for the press, and 2-3 sets of 30 seconds for the hold.
This exercise is very simple, but when done right it is very effective and challenging! Just like the obliques can resist rotation, your abs/rectus abdominis can resist extension (arching your back). The goal of this exercise is to move your arm and leg without arching your back or losing tension in your abs. This exercises tends to be a little frustrating at first, so be slow and deliberate with your movements. Start with 2-3 sets of 15 each side.
Another simple but effective exercise. This is similar to the dead bug, but from a different position. Again, the goal is to move your arm and leg without arching your back, but this time there is the added challenge of balance. Try 2-3 sets of 15 each side to start.
This is not a complete list of different core exercises, but it’s a good place to start. Add some to your program today for more variety and stronger abs!
For many, the feeling of soreness after a workout can provide a sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you really pushed yourself. While the feeling may be enjoyable, soreness is not an indicator of progress or the effectiveness of a workout.
What is soreness?
Soreness comes from damage to muscle tissue caused by stress and overload. To put it another way, do more than your body is currently used to and you’ll end up sore. A long walk after a few weeks without exercise can cause muscle soreness, but few would call that a good workout.
This may sound bad, but it can be a good thing! Overloading the body is important for making progress, and at some point you have to push beyond your current ability level. The other side to this overload picture is adaptation, which is what happens when the body “catches up” and gets used to what you are asking of it.
For a better understanding of this “overload and adaptation” thing, let’s take a look at something called General Adaptation Syndrome.
General Adaptation Syndrome, a 3 stage set of physiological processes, was discovered by scientist and physician Hans Selye in 1926. This set of processes prepare the body for danger and increase the chances of survival.
Selye identified 3 predictable stages that the body uses as a response to stress:
- Alarm Stage. A burst of energy is provided. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, preparing for the “fight or flight” response.
- Resistance Stage. The body attempts to resist or adapt.
- Exhaustion Stage. The body fails to adapt to the stressful stimulus and will gradually deteriorate over time
What does all of this mean?
If you are constantly chasing soreness in your workouts, you are not allowing your body time to adapt. As stated above, if the body does not adapt it will deteriorate over time. At best, this will limit your progress in the gym. At worst, you’ll end up sick, injured and unable to train.
Here are better ways to measure the effectiveness of your workouts:
- More weight for an exercise
- Less rest needed between sets or to complete a session
- More sets of an exercise
- More reps performed at a given weight for an exercise
- For athletes, a noticeable transfer of power, speed, or endurance to your sport.
- For the rest of us, an easier time with everyday tasks (stairs, carrying bags, yard work, etc)
Remember, soreness isn’t the goal. Progress is. Train hard AND train smart!
“I don’t want to get bulky. Lifting weights makes you big, and I don’t want to look like a man.”
This myth is repeated far more often than it should be. A quick look at any social media platform shows you this just isn’t true! If you are seriously concerned about building too much muscle or having an undesirable physique, worry no more. With a little information, we can hopefully put this thing to rest once and for all.
These are my answers to the two most common questions I get from people with concerns about resistance training.
1 – Can a resistance training program make me bigger? Yes, but this is not a guarantee. While many start lifting with the intent to get bigger, there are three very important things to keep in mind:
1) A caloric surplus causes weight gain. Building muscle, and gaining weight in general, requires you to eat more. The quality and quantity of your nutrition affects your appearance and physical performance. Don’t want to get bigger? Keep your nutrition in check. Honestly, it is that simple.
2) There are ways to train without putting on size. Nutrition aside, there are other factors that go into a resistance training program – frequency (number of training sessions per week), training volume (amount of work per session), and training intensity (percentage of your maximum capacity). All of these factors can be adjusted to improve fitness, speed, power, strength and conditioning WITHOUT putting on size. This approach is used by weight class athletes like boxers, martial artists, wrestlers, and others that need the benefits of strength training without gaining additional weight.
3) Women are at a disadvantage when it comes to building muscle. Testosterone, the primary muscle building hormone, is less present in women than men. This doesn’t mean women cannot build muscle, it just requires more work. Which takes us to question number two…
2 – Can you get “big and bulky” casually training a few times week? If only it were that easy! Unless you’re blessed with perfect weight room genes, nope. Even under the most ideal conditions, it takes A LOT of work. Gaining serious muscle takes hours upon hours of training, precise and often restricted nutrition, a schedule built around exercise, and anabolic steroids in many cases. A few hours a week in the gym isn’t enough to make this a possibility.
For women afraid of “looking like a man” or “getting bigger”, you can lift, get stronger, get leaner, and enjoy the many benefits of resistance training with no worry of this outdated myth based on false assumptions.