4 Core Training Mistakes to Avoid
The prime rib,
Whatever you want to call it,
The muscles around your stomach and low back play a huge role in the function of your entire body,
And having them look nice ain’t too bad either.
The muscles of the core include your:
Rectus abdominus – the front of your stomach
Tranversus abdominus – the deep muscles in your abdomen
The internal and external obliques – the muscles on the sides of your abdomen
The erector spine – the muscles of your low back.
There is a ton of other muscles that make up the core, but these are the main ones we’ll discuss today.
This article will outline four common mistakes people make when training the muscles of the core.
1. Not resisting in all planes
The true role of the core is to resist movement at the spine.
The spine houses the spinal cord.
Any damage to that spinal cord can cause a myriad of issues throughout the rest of your body.
It’s super important that we keep the spinal cord safe.
So, in order to keep the spinal cord safe, we need to resist any unexpected movements to it.
These movements can include
Twisting or rotation
Side bending or lateral flexion
Arching or extension
Rounding or flexion
Also, in resisting excess movement at the spine, we are preventing energy leaks through the kinetic chains of our bodies.
Well, when we work our legs, our core needs to be stable otherwise we won’t get the most out of our leg exercises.
It’s like shooting a canon off of a canoe.
The canoe (your core) is unstable and the canon (your legs) will not be able to produce the same amount of force as if it were shooting off of a concrete slab.
That’s what we want our core to be – a solid slab of concrete.
The same goes for the upper body.
if the core is not sufficiently strong, we cannot get the most out of exercises like rows, pull-ups, push-ups and presses.
So, what do we do about this:
Well, it’s a relatively simple fix.
Train the core to resist excess movement at the spine.
Turn that canoe into a concrete slab and fire up that canon.
Like we mentioned above, the core needs to be able to resist:
Twisting or rotation,
Side-bending or lateral flexion,
Arching or extension,
Rounding or flexion.
Here are our favourite exercises to do this:
A. Twisting / rotation
Supine leg whip
B. Side-bending or lateral flexion
C. Arching or extension
D. Rounding or flexion
So, for a functional core that performs and looks good, resist movement in all directions.
2. Too much loaded movement at the spine
Like we just talked about,
the true role of the core is to resist movement at the spine.
Look, I am not going to sit here and dump on crunches and sit-ups and back extensions.
I actively try very hard to not shit on other people’s practices,
but here’s the issue with too many sit-ups, too many crunches and too many back-bends:
A. Too many crunches pull you out of good posture
The nature of crunches is that they encourage excess rounding in the upper back and into the low back.
Low back rounding can cause issues with the discs between the low back vertebrae.
Upper back rounding can cause issues with the shoulders and neck.
B. When the true role of the core is to resist excess movement at the spine, producing a ton of movement kind of goes against that concept.
Research suggests that the spine has a limited number of cycles of bending and extending.
It’s like bending an old credit card back and forth,
it won’t bust at the beginning,
over time, that Mastercard is going to break.
C. In back-arching exercises like the super-woman and back-extensions you are asking your low back to tighten up.
The unfortunate thing is that these muscles are often tight in most of the population.
So, in working these exercises, you are essentially over-working over-active muscles.
This can not only further feed into this tightness,
It can also cause damage to the vertebrae and discs in your spinal column.
Nonetheless, we have other options.
A great exercise in place of crunches is the Rollout.
A great exercise in place of back extensions are plank variations and deadlifts.
Both exercises work the same core muscles,
Just not using bending and extending.
3. Trying to spot reduce the abs
One of my instructors in University used to say:
“The muscles underneath belly fat do not have property rights over that belly fat on top of it”.
As in, unfortunately, research does not back up the idea that you can burn away fat at specific areas of your body by working the muscles in that same area.
This concept is known as “spot reduction” and as awesome as it would be to have this ability, we just don’t.
Unfortunately, fat comes off the body by:
A. Following sound nutritional habits like eating until 80, eating lean protein, eating colourful plants, etc.
B. Using large muscle, compound exercises to get fit and strong and to increase your metabolism.
C. Managing stress and recovery
And the way the body fat comes off your body is very specific to you, your genetic tendency to hold fat in certain areas and your stress levels.
Again, I wish this wasn’t the case, but years of research on “spot reduction” just doesn’t back up this idea.
4. Not focusing on your breathing
Breathing correctly is one of those things that you probably don’t think of when it comes to building a strong core.
The truth is that the way we breathe affects our posture and our posture determines the length of the muscles in our core.
The length of the muscles in our core affects how they function.
Often, the muscles on the front of the core are lengthened and they become under-active and weak.
The muscles on the back of the core (low back) are shortened and they become overactive, dominant and chronically tight.
So, nonetheless, we need to do something about this.
You can start by assessing your breathing.
The way you would do this is by:
1. Lying on your back with your heels 6-12” away from your butt
2. Putting one hand on your belly button
3. Putting the other hand on your chest
4. Breathing normally
As you do this, observe your breathing.
Is the hand on the belly button only moving up and down?
That’s belly breathing
Is the hand on the chest only moving up and down?
That’s chest breathing.
Is the hand on both the belly button and the chest moving equally?
That’s balanced breathing.
Ideally, we want you to breathe using balanced breathing.
Just be sure you shoulders aren’t shrugging up to your ears.
Excess belly-breathing can weaken the abs in the front of the core
and tighten the muscles of the low back.
Excess chest-breathing can tighten up the muscles around the shoulders and neck and even cause headaches.
So, the goal is balanced breathing.
You can practice this the same way you test for it.
Lying on the back with one hand on the belly
And one on the chest.
Try to balance your breathing between the chest and the belly.
Try a couple sets of 6-8 slow breaths in your warm-up or in your cool-down.
The true role of the core is to prevent unwanted movements at the spine
and to keep the spine in a healthy, safe position.
This makes daily tasks like
picking up kids,
Much more fun and enjoyable.
Therefore, train the core using exercises that resist those movements and hold the spine in position.
Whether, it’s breathing exercises,
All of these things contribute to making the core rock-solid.
Go get ‘em.