Fundamental Core Function: It’s not all about crunches and planks!
I believe there are many misconceptions around training your core (your abs) in both fitness and rehabilitation industries. What do you do for you core? Or maybe a better question to ask is “Do you realise the function of a strong core, and just how important it is to not only sporting performance but to everyday living.
Most people including certain experts believe that the way to a solid functioning core is through hundreds of sit ups, crunches and the occasional prone hold or side plank.
The biggest misconception about the core or your Abs are that they are purely visual i.e. who’s got the best six pack! Little regard is given to how it functions as a reflex stabilizer to protect your spine and allow your extremities to function optimally.
A simple way to think of the core is a stability device that should work subconsciously to allow the rest of the body to function as efficiently as possible. So how would holding a static pose or a core forward flexion exercise train the body to do this? Simple, it won’t help you function efficiently, however good you are at doing those sit ups and a planks.
For a start a good way to think of stabilization is motor control, I like this thinking because it involves the brain. A great way to start working on reflex driven motor control is to get into varied developmental positions like quadruped (on all fours) and half kneeling and balance in the position, this may seem easy but give it a try and be as relaxed as possible, if you find it to easy narrow your base of support.
Another way of thinking of the core is being an anti rotation device, when walking or running you don’t want excessive amounts of movement through the core area (you do want some, but not much). So training the progression from simple motor control balancing work into simple anti rotation exercises works very well and has carry over to most activities. I like using functional positions to do these exercises, like tall kneeling, half kneeling, standing double leg stance and then split leg stance. The cable machine works perfectly as the resistance, but a piece of elastic can easily work too. Starting of with static resistance to rotation then add more dynamic movements (but I’ll leave this for another Article to go in depth).
Disclaimer: planks and crunches do have there place, but they have to be done with perfect form, in conjunction with other exercises that work on postural balance. They aren’t very effective at gaining core function and don’t work the stabilizers in a reflex driven manner.