Updated: Sep 2, 2018
Truth be told, core-stability is not just about shaping & toning abs, while it does make you a better and stronger runner in the long end.
Strong abdominal muscles are key to maximizing strength and stability, maintaining mobility and reducing the risk of injury. But while most of us recognize the importance of core training, you only have to ask a runner how often s/he makes time for core exercises... A second truth be told is that most of us could be doing a much better job.
So what's the core about?
In 2013, a study (1) was conducted at Penn State University to explore which ab exercises elicit the greatest muscle activation and, therefore, maximize functional gains and peak performance. The study compared the effectiveness of common ab exercises (which typically use one or two muscles and create a relatively small movement) with integrated ab exercises.
Integrated ab exercises use the same muscles as common ab exercises, yet these also work in conjunction with other muscles in the core, the arms and even the legs.
The research showed that the activation of abdominal and lumbar muscles is greatest during exercises that also require deltoid (i.e. shoulder) and gluteal (i.e. but) activation. In short, the effect of integrated exercises pay off.
It’s clear that integrated ab exercises are the way to go.
When doing core strength exercises, an integrated routine that incorporates the activation of distal trunk musculature maximizes strength, improves endurance, enhances stability, reduces injury, and helps maintaining mobility.
The 3 best core exercises
A plank with hand reach is the ultimate way to work your lower abdominals. Compared with a traditional crunch, this move can increase rectus abdominis activation up to 20%.
A bird dog optimally effects your erector spinae (i.e. the set of muscles that straighten and rotate the back), compared with an isolated double arm extension. The bird dog increases erector spinae activation with up to 38% when executed with a resistance band.
A side hover is the ideal way to work the oblique ab muscles. The side hover provides 25% more oblique activation than the traditional oblique crunch.
How often and when to train your core-stability?
Healthy adults should ideally complete a strength training including core exercises twice a week. It’s best to focus on ab training at the end of your workout. It's best not to strain your core at the beginning of your training, as you will still need to fully activate them. Doing so might create greater risk of injury and would overall make your training less effective.
So, take on some additional core exercises after a cardio workout such as an outdoor BODYATTACK or your weekly run. It's the best finish you could have.
Download your free core-stability guide here!
How to improve the effectiveness of your core-stability?
When it comes to getting the most from any training, fatigue is key. It’s about reaching that moment in your training where the muscles burn and the heartbeat pumps. That is when you generate the greatest amount of muscle adaptation in your body. When doing integrated core-stability exercises, such as the hover and plank you are able to reach fatigue faster because they are recruiting multiple muscles at the same time.
Most integrated ab exercises can be reduced into different intensity levels to suit different levels. For example a hover on your knees, versus a regular hover on your feet, versus a hover on your feet including a hand reach are essentially the same movement. Yet the different variations make it more challenging. A good trainer will coach you through the right variation of a movement without jeopardizing technique nor safety.
From September to June, we offer core-stability trainings every Wednesday evening from 19h - 21h in the Elite sports center in Ghent (Topsporthal). More information can be found on our homepage or on Facebook. If you want to join, buy your membership card here.
So, where is my six-pack?
Core-stability training is undoubtedly a good training module, but smashing out sets of ab exercises doesn’t automatically lead to a chiseled six-pack. The secret to a well-defined mid-section is to get rid of abdominal fat under which a lot of six-packs are hidden.
Now, a final truth untold: when it comes to fat, spot reduction doesn’t work. If you really want to burn fat, you need to focus on overall energy expenditure. This means that you need to work out in your fat-burning zone as happens when walking, jogging or sober running at max 60 - 70% of your VO2 max. There are numerous ways to expend energy and burn fat.
Recent research (2) shows that specific forms of high-intensity interval training can be superior here, particularly when it comes to stubborn stomach fat. Additionally, having too much fat around your middle waist - more than anywhere else - can have increasingly negative health impact. Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and hypertension have all been linked to excess abdominal fat.
It all starts with doing your basic core training... you'll soon start to see that it's effects beyond basic!
1. Gottschal, J. S., et al. "Integration core exercises elicit greater muscle activation than isolation exercises." The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness (2013)
2. Giannaki, C. D., et al. "Eight weeks of a combination of high intensity interval training and conventional training reduce visceral adiposity and improve physical fitness: a group-based intervention." The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness (2015).
3. Les Mills International, Emma Hogan