Post Attributed to Brandon Wood, FAST Facility Manager (Litchfield Park Location).
Brandon Wood is our Litchfield Park Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training facility manager. He has years of experience working with athletes and competing as an athlete himself. Here, he explains how to effectively work out your core muscles for better strength, stability, and athletic performance – and it probably doesn’t involve the exercises you’d think.
Just about everyone wants to gain impressive abs in the gym. People will often hammer out hundreds of crunches or sit-ups because they want a six-pack, but are these exercises truly the best way to build core strength?
Having six-pack abs doesn’t necessarily mean you have a strong core, and many exercises that burn your stomach muscles aren’t effective ways to build core strength. Over time, hundreds of crunches can lead to back pain, and a good-looking midsection is actually made in the kitchen. A six-pack is achieved by losing body fat, not building muscle. However, having a strong core is important – it helps you while exercising, improves posture, and makes daily activities easier. You should train for the right reasons (building strength is more important than looking a certain way), and you need to train the right way to achieve it.
A strong core means more than just having strong abs. The hips, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, and internal and external obliques are all core muscles. If you only train the anterior core (the midsection that exercises like crunches target), other areas may become weaker. The posterior core muscles are important in performing a number of exercises, including deadlifts. If they are weak, exercises become more difficult and dangerous for the lower back. Anti-rotation exercises work the posterior core to help prevent this issue. Cable machines and TRX Suspension Training are great tools for this type of exercise.
Here are some examples of anti-rotation exercises you can perform:
- Grasp the handles of TRX Suspension Training straps and assume a pushup position. Then, remove one hand and raise it until it is horizontal to the body. Do this ten times, then switch arms. Wide set feet and a taller stance will make this exercise easier, and feet closer together and farther back will make it more challenging. Throughout the exercise, make sure not to rotate. Keep your core tight with a neutral spine. This simple movement of the arm raise, while maintaining a single arm push-up position, will force you to engage all of your core muscles while resisting any kind of rotation through your center.
- Another anti-rotation exercise involves cable machines. Stand perpendicular to the cable machine, pull a cable attachment toward your chest, and hold it there – this is called an isolated hold. You don’t need to use much weight for this exercise. Next, step away from the machine and extend both arms out slightly (without locking the elbows) and hold for 10-30 seconds, switching the direction you face after each set. It should feel as though the weight is trying to pull you back toward the machine, which is what your body is resisting. This is another anti-rotation exercise that does not place your spine at risk.
- A Palloff Press also uses a cable machine. Stand perpendicular to the machine, pull a cable attachment toward your chest and press the handle away from your chest, then bring it back toward you in a controlled manner. This is similar to the isolated hold, but it adds some movement to the exercise.
- Utilizing a physio ball is a great, simple way to build core strength that you can even do while you’re at work. The purpose of a physio ball is to increase balance and strength of the body’s core muscles, as well as an individual’s posture. Instead of sitting in an office chair for hours at a time, switch it out for a physio ball. Office chairs make it very easy to slouch, which promotes bad posture. The physio ball forces you to sit up straight, which stabilizes the core. At first, the switch may seem difficult and tiring after years of leaning against the back of a chair. It will get easier. Try to sit on the ball for a few minutes at a time throughout the day until you build up better core strength and improved posture. A major key when transitioning to a physio ball is the size of the ball. When you sit, your thighs should be parallel to the floor, so make sure to choose a ball size that allows this.
New ideas and exercises guaranteeing six-pack abs will continuously emerge, but be sure that any new exercises you try are safe, viable, and performed correctly. An injury is the last thing you want when trying to improve your fitness. Often times, the simple moves are more beneficial to the health and strength of the body than hundreds of reps or too-heavy weights. Having a strong core is vital to every exercise you perform – in the gym, and in daily life.
Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training clinics offer Phoenix personal training services to athletes all across the Valley. At Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy, we create individualized training programs for our clients to help get them stronger, faster, and in more competitive shape. We also offer a free assessment of your fitness level, which can be scheduled online here. For more advice about Phoenix personal training, check out our blog.