All movement begins in your core, where your body’s center of gravity is located.
Core strength and stability is the capacity of the core musculature to control your constantly changing center of gravity as you move, walk, bend, reach and function. Developing your core goes way beyond isolating the “six-pack” musculature.
Many of us have a singular goal of looking down and seeing six-pack abs popping out of our midsection. If this includes you and it motivates you to exercise, that is a good thing!
For most, once they realize the nutritional requirements, exercise agenda, lifestyle change and sacrifice necessary to achieve that goal, they decide against going for it. Or, they begin a restrictive diet and intense exercise plan, but when they don’t see ripped abs within a few weeks, they throw in the towel.
“Screw that! You’re telling me even if I keep this up for another few weeks, I still might not see six-pack abs? Then why bother eating right and exercising?”
This all-or-nothing mind-set is further exacerbated by the plethora of exercise plans and products promoting results like – 8 minute abs, 6 minute abs, 2 minute abs – “You too can have a sexy midsection in as little as 2 minutes a day.”
Why do you want six-pack abs in the first place?
Is it to appear more attractive or sexier? To look like those lean fitness cover models, body builders or hollywood action stars? Will you be adding a midriff shirt to your daily wardrobe so you can show off your abs?
Everyone has abs. Though they will not always be revealed as a six-pack, they are right there, under that layer of fat. Stop eating and you will reveal them, eventually, but I don’t recommend this method!
Repeat: Starvation is never a good choice for fat loss!
If you are the impatient type, and the appearance of a chiseled mid-section is your goal, you may need to: drastically reduce your calories to a practically unhealthy level; drink most of your meals; add in a few fat burning supplements and stimulants; all while exercising like crazy burning significantly more calories than you eat, until you drop to a single digit body fat percentage – voila, abs.
Fighter’s and wrestlers follow a similar weight loss plan in order to drop to a pre-determined weight class on a specific weigh-in date prior to competition.
Body builders also follow a very detailed plan the weeks prior to a competition. They are not walking around with their skin stretched over rippled ab muscles day to day.
And those fitness cover models also work hard at getting that skin stretched over tightly packed muscles look the weeks leading up to the photo shoot, plus, photos are often photoshopped to improve the appearance of their chiseled mid-section.
Achieving that look, particularly in a hurry, comes at a high cost; one most people aren’t willing to pay, nor should they. You can get your six-pack abs, if that is your goal, but it will take a lot more time, effort, consistency and patience than a 2 minute ab crunching routine will provide.
The desire for six-pack abs is not that far off the mark. A healthier goal would be to work on training your entire core thereby improving your core strength and stability – an integral piece of your total body fitness puzzle.
A comprehensive training program is one that strives to improve all components of the human movement system especially core strength and stability.
Traditional training techniques, specifically strength training, focuses on absolute strength and size gains in isolated muscles, utilizing single planes of motion.
Constantly training the same muscle group in only one stable plane of motion might help you develop muscle size, but it does not prepare you to function efficiently in the real world.
Similarly, doing crunches as your core routine isolates your Rectus Abdominis (six-pack muscles, centrally located between your sternum and your groin) but does not strengthen your entire core.
Cross functional training expands the focus utilizing synergistic techniques that train your entire kinetic chain in all planes of motion.
“A core stabilization training program improves dynamic postural control, ensures appropriate muscular balance and joint arthrokinematics around the Lumbo Pelvic Hip Complex and allows for the expression of dynamic functional strength and improved neuromuscular efficiency throughout the kinetic chain.” – NASM
Think of your core as similar to the trunk of a tree. The tree trunk is the core strength of the tree, supporting the canopy above, it’s limbs and branches, standing stoically against the efforts of nature to knock it down, with its roots precariously grasping the earth.
Your trunk then is not your head and neck, arms or legs. It is everything in between from your shoulders through your hips.
The Lumbo Pelvic Hip Complex
More specifically, NASM defines the core as the Lumbo Pelvic Hip Complex (LPHC) including the lumbar spine, the pelvic girdle, abdomen and the hip joint.
There are between 29 and 35 muscles that attach to the lumbar spine or pelvis.
Included is your back musculature: Erector Spinae (Iliocostalis, Longissimus, Spinalis); Quadratus Lumborum; Multifidus.
Your Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) also plays a huge part in core strength and stability as this large back musculature connects from your shoulders down to your Thoracolumbar Fascia (TLF) and pelvis.
The TLF is a non-contractile tissue that plays an essential role in the functional stability of your lumbar spine. This tissue is located in the center of your lower back and functions as the bridge between your upper and lower extremities due to all the contractile muscles that attach to it including: Erector Spinae; Multifidus, Transverse Abdominis; Internal Obliques; Gluteus Maximus; Latissimus Dorsi; Quadratus Lumborum.
Your abdominal musculature includes: Rectus Abdominis; External Oblique; Internal Oblique; Transverse Abdominus; Diaphram.
The LPHC has a massive influence on the structures above and below as it is directly associated with both the upper extremities and lower extremities.
Do you recall the song “Dem Bones”?
…Ankle bone connected to the shin bone, Shin bone connected to the knee bone, Knee bone connected to the thigh bone, Thigh bone connected to the hip bone, Hip bone connected to the back bone, Back bone connected to the shoulder bone…
This is a great example of the human kinetic chain. Dysfunction in lower or upper extremities can lead to dysfunction of the LPHC and vice versa.
In fact dysfunction in any one area of this chain leads to altered movement patterns in other areas to compensate, leading to discomfort, pain and injury.
For example, simply walking transfers energy and force from your heel strike through your lower leg up as your Biceps Femoris (hamstring, back of upper leg) activates, which is connected to your Sacrotuberous ligament, which is attached to your Sacrum and TLF, which is attached to your Gluteus Maximus, Erector Spinae and Latissimus Dorsi, which has attachments including your pelvis, spine, ribs,scapula and your upper arm at your shoulder.
Dysfunction in your lower leg can lead to hamstring issues and groin strains, quadriceps strains, knee strains and hip dysfunction leading to overactivity in the lats leading to a variety of shoulder and upper extremity injuries.
Much of this dysfunction in other parts of your kinetic chain leads to excessive stress being placed on your lower back, resulting in low back pain and increased risk of injury.
Yet few people develop the muscles of the LPHC required for spinal stabilization.
Developing your core musculature as an integral component of your protective mechanism will relieve your spine of the deleterious forces that are inherent during functional activities.
Performing crunches till you puke is far from the most efficient method of functional core training!
If you are not necessarily interested in becoming the next fitness cover model, but you do want to lose belly fat, improve your health and longevity, reduce your risk of injury, improve your proprioception and eliminate low back pain then a comprehensive core stabilization program should be part of your total body fitness plan.
You will gain strength, control, power and endurance throughout your LPHC and facilitate balanced muscular functioning of your entire kinetic chain, reducing your risk of injury and decreasing or eliminating low back pain.
This is the reason that core training is widely used in rehab and prevention centers as well as sports performance training and is a significant part of the XFNC fitness program.
Include cardio, resistance and core stabilization training along with a healthy nutrition plan and you may just end up with that six-pack after all.