Want to get stronger? Build muscle mass? Make your body beautiful and embossed? Pump expressive dice on your stomach? Read on to learn how to build core muscles and make your dreams come true.
Contrary to popular belief, core muscles and abs are not the same thing. The abdominal muscles, which consist of the rectus and lateral muscles, work by bending the spine. And the torso (aka core) is the collective name for all the muscles of the body that work to stabilize the spine.
Of course, six dice on the stomach is a pleasant sight, but training the press without training the core is about the same as polishing a car without an engine. But there is good news: although their functions differ, training abdominal muscles and torso training should not be mutually exclusive. On the contrary, if you work correctly, you can at the same time train both the abs and core muscles.
A well-developed torso creates a stable foundation from which you can exert more effort by lifting more weight. Charles Polikin said this best of all: you cannot shoot from a cannon placed in a boat. In the same way, core muscle training is an essential component for quality workout. By pumping core, you improve your ability to obstruct the movement of the body during exercise, which prevents the spine from folding and minimizes the risk of injury.
The best way to train your press is the topic of much debate. One group believes that the main role of the cortex is the prevention of unwanted movements of the spine, and therefore exercises should be carried out aimed at the stability of the torso. And another group claims that bodybuilders who try to achieve hypertrophy at the cost of everything else, performing 2,000 twists a day, will almost certainly ruin their spine.
And there is also a third group – pitching, which says that squats and deadlift are all that is needed to build a strong press. And if you read a lot of articles on training for abdominal muscles, you will probably start to see nightmares about obesity and spinal injuries than you will get any useful information on the topic.
Who is right? They are all right and wrong. Therefore, you should remember that all methods of torso training work for the abdomen, so training for the core is simply necessary if you want embossed cubes.
Fact 1: traction is not enough
Many people believe that deadlift is the best exercise they can do in the gym. Although its benefits, as well as the benefits of squats, bench presses and push-ups are not disputed by anyone, in fact, these exercises are not the only ones that should be performed.
Many, if not all people, need regular exercise for the press to eliminate weaknesses, imbalances and other problems in order to stay healthy and strong. In terms of aesthetics, specific training is required, which, like for any other muscle group, uses the principle of hypertrophy.
The thrust, of course, has merits in terms of the work of the core muscles and the tension of the whole body, but, often, its useful properties end here. If you ask a group of pumped up bodybuilders to fulfill a simple bar , you can watch how many of them will fall almost immediately, without lasting even a minute.
Fact 2: lumbar bending is not a good sign
For the most part, due to the work of Stuart McGill, Ph.D. and professor at the University of Waterloo, exercises with powerful lumbar deflection (in the lumbar spine), such as twisting, got a bad reputation, and for good reason. A simple comparison is a credit card: if you bend it once, then almost nothing will happen to it. But continue to bend and unbend it, and it will slowly lose its hardness and flexibility, and then it will break.
Mac Gill calculated that each twist, if carried out to the maximum bend, puts a load of more than 3,000 Newtons on the spine. This is about the same tension as if you were squeezed on both sides by two heavy boxers of 150 kg each. And we must also take into account that a person spends most of his day sitting at the table in one pose. It can be concluded that strong lumbar flexion is a rather harmful phenomenon. Instead of aggravating the situation with such contractions, it would be better to maintain a neutral position and work on the stability of the body.
Fact 3: not all types of bends in the back are the same
In fitness, there is no black and white. There are no clear differences between one and the other. Bends in the back are also no exception. First, it is important to distinguish the lumbar deflection in the lower back from the spinal flexion (throughout the spine).
By and large, three types of flexion should be avoided:
- Permanent, maintained for a long time
- Maximum lower back flexion
- Back tension with weight in bent position
Regarding the first point: people who sit at the table for a long time, and thus stay in one position for a long time, require more training for core muscles and body stability. They also need to develop the mobility and flexibility of the torso.
To clarify the importance of the second point, it should be noted that the lumbar deflection is like a dice game. Play with fire and you (eventually) get burned. And why? Regardless of your goal, whether it is strength, volume or aesthetics, the last 2-3 centimeters of twisting will not make a big difference.
And the third point, on the load on the back with weight (or generally on any load), is already an uncertain area in which it is difficult to find the right answer. Could this hurt? Of course. Nevertheless, when certain factors are controlled, and the execution technique is correct, such an exercise will be useful for the whole organism from both an aesthetic and functional point of view.
One often mentioned factor that is considered the most important here is the technique with which most of these exercises are performed. Although speed may be a form of progress, such progress is not necessarily useful. From the point of view of aesthetics and volume, slow repetitions are more useful, because they are more effective both from the functional point of view and for the development of strength.
As speed increases, so does “recoil.” The result is a poor technique, and therefore a huge load on the lower back and the spine as a whole. There are almost no aesthetic advantages. Cubes respond best to long repetitions with constant voltage, which is achieved by performing slow repetitions with controlled movement.
In the same way, by performing isometric exercises you can develop stronger and more beautiful abdominal muscles. Isometric exercises put emphasis on the cooperation of the brain and muscles, develop control over the technique of execution and strengthen the torso, while improving the work of the lateral small muscles of the abdomen and stabilizers of the spine and pelvis.
Avoiding maximum flexion of the spine, perform the exercises from the following list, making controlled movements. Lower yourself for 2-3 seconds, and 2-3 keep an isometric pose in the upper position of the exercise. This will allow you to focus on connecting muscles and consciousness. To maintain a stable connection and avoid voltage loss, perform 1-2 seconds of isometric voltage in the lower amplitude of each exercise to engage the stability of the body with each repetition.
If you assume that you are doing everything correctly, the best exercises that do not harm your back will be reverse twisting, twisting with outstretched arms, twisting with straightened legs, and some variations of these exercises.
Fact 4: core exercises are needed to strengthen the spine
Torso has two important functions. Firstly, it prevents unwanted movements of the spine during exercise, thereby preventing the development of chronic diseases of the spine or injury. And secondly, a strong torso connects the upper and lower body in order to develop great strength and power.
In other words, an organism with a strong torso becomes stronger and stronger. It is harder to get injured and easier to lift heavy weight. Three categories of exercises to stabilize the torso – anti-rotation, anti-tension and anti-flexion.
As their name implies, these exercises develop the ability to actively inhibit spinal stretching. This is important for many athletes and lifters. Baseball players, for example, spend most of their time standing in a pose with a lumbar stretch, just like lifters who perform traction or pull-ups. These exercises reduce the spinal muscles, due to which stability is achieved.
The most common problem among this area of athletes is hyper-sprain of the lower back. This condition leads to a whole series of new problems, such as weak buttocks, pain in the knee or thigh, and chronic stretching of the tendons of the legs.
Many coaches and coaches immediately reject a lifter who is trying to work with even a slightly bent back. But even so, it should be remembered that the constant struggle against bending soon turns into the opposite – into tension, which can prevent the lifter from reaching the maximum potential when performing the exercise.
On the other hand, a neutral position supports optimal mechanics of movement, allows you to better promote muscle and consciousness, and literally forces you to hone your technique. This way you can lift more weight in a safe way. Therefore, anti-stretching exercises, for example, those described below, allow you to achieve a neutral position:
- Plank variations
- Exercise “Dead Beetle” and its variants
- Hinges while standing or kneeling
- Roll-out and its options (with a bar or soft roller)
- Exercise “saw” (with a training ball, special sliding pads or towels)
Counter-rotation exercises teach the torso to prevent an unwanted turn. Although the concept itself sounds simple, its role is very important, because the right technique often depends on your ability to obstruct a turn.
Regardless of the type of exercise, whether it is exercises with a medical ball or a quick change of direction when playing basketball, the turning (rotational) force should come from the hips, torso and shoulders – not from the lower back. The problem is that many lifters and athletes forget this very important step in their training. The result is a spoiled technique of movement, and, subsequently, injury.
To generate maximum strength and intensity, you need to develop the ability to prevent the rotation of the spine. This allows the body to create optimal strength from the hips, torso and shoulders. Counter-rotation exercises are key in the development of stability and synchronization, which allow you to develop maximum power.
Here are some counter-exercise exercises you could try:
- Pallof Bench Press (Standing or Kneeling)
- Three-limb strap options (raising one leg or one arm)
- Exercise lumberjack in the block simulator and its varieties (standing, on his knees, legs wide apart)
- Exercises of the bird-dog group (with dumbbells or with an expander)
- Shifting weights from one hand to another at the bar position
Against side curvatures
When performing anti-flexion exercises, the body has to prevent side flexion. The closest sensation to such exercises is walking home with heavy bags from the store.
It should also be noted that not everyone understands these exercises correctly. Typical exercises that include this movement are flexion to the side. And they hold it to strengthen the lateral muscles. But the lateral muscles respond poorly to dynamic movement; on the contrary, they are best used by resistance to movement while maintaining an isometric position.
When it comes to anti-flexion exercises, nothing can be better than walking with a load in one hand, which will also allow you to develop strength in the forearms and upper back. Regardless of the variation, your goal is to maintain tension throughout the body, nevertheless remaining in an upright position. When this exercise is carried out correctly, it overtakes many others in its use for strength, aesthetics and functionality.
Here are some examples:
- Walking with the load in one hand
- Pole walking
- Walking with a barbell with different weights on its sides (two pancakes on one side and four on the other)
- Walking with a weight in one hand
There are a large number of combinations that train different counteraction abilities right away, for example:
- Renegade Thrust
- Breeding hands when performing the bar on three limbs
- Pallof Bench Dead Beetle
- Circular rotation with the elbows on the fitball
- Turkish climbs
Fact 5: you can achieve hypertrophy of the abdominal muscles and build functional abs muscles by doing exercises for the hips with a neutral position of the spine
Although many people are in a hurry to say that this does not work, exercises with hips tension at a neutral position of the spine can be the most difficult and therefore the most effective for training torso muscles.
The benefits of this category of exercises are twofold. Firstly, although it is not necessary to use consciousness for hypertrophy, most of the exercises with tension of the hips include the strongest assistance of consciousness and muscles of the abdomen. Secondly, learning to strain your hips while keeping your back in a neutral position is simply necessary for many other exercises. Exercises of this category make you strain your entire torso without stretching your lumbar spine. To see how this happens from the side, consider the runner’s movement for speed.
Movements involving hips from a neutral position create the same tension as insulation exercises, but without the unnecessary strain on the back that often appears when twisting. For the growth of any muscle, it needs to be given a load with high voltage and sufficient time under tension, so that the muscle receives a load and begins to develop.
These exercises with a load on the hips meet both requirements:
- Raising legs or knees hanging on a bar
- Peak push-ups and variations (training ball, rings)
- Fitball Knees
- Variations of pull-ups on fitball (with an expander, on one leg)
Conclusion from this article
Building strong and beautiful abdominal muscles requires a synergistic mixture of opposing techniques, sparing exercises, developing a connection between consciousness and muscles, and a progressive increase in complexity. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to insert such a multifaceted approach into your training program.
- Workout for the torso can also be included in your program as “additional”. If you rest after a heavy squat approach, then you can perform such a simple exercise as the Pallof bench press or reverse twisting without undue stress.
- A couple of times a week, after the end of the workout, set the timer for 6-8 minutes and choose 2-3 exercises for the abdominal muscles to perform them as one approach. For example, 8-10 repetitions of lifting the knees on the crossbar, 6-8 twisting with a training ball and 8-10 repetitions of the roll-out.
- Perform anti-flexion exercises, performing different types of walking with a load. Such exercises not only strengthen the lateral muscles and improve the overall functioning of the body, but also give you serious strength in the forearms, shoulders, trapezius muscles, back and buttocks.
- Modify your program to strengthen and torso. One-way movements (reverse lunges, bending one arm with a dumbbell) as well as pull-ups, Turkish lifts and flattening of arms, allow you to get a powerful training effect without the use of heavy shells.
- Hone your ability to maintain a neutral stance when doing exercises that need stability. Even the simplest of them can load the torso if you hold the tension throughout the body.
- Strive for a progressive increase in intensity by changing various factors. Be careful when adding weight, as improper handling may turn out to be poison, not medicine.
There are many different ways to make progress in your workout:
- Reduce the number of points of contact with the floor (holding the bar on three limbs)
- We put emphasis on eccentric exercises (lifting legs or knees hanging on the bar)
- Increase the range of motion (perform roll outs with a barbell).
- Use the opportunity to perform an isometric pose (stop during the reverse twist and hold the pose)
- Use gravity to increase the difficulty of the exercise (long bar with raised legs)
- Create instability by raising one limb (penknife).
- Perform multi-functional exercises (Pallof bench press or dead bug).