Core Anatomical Training Guide by Thats_Justice
When most people think of the core, they think of abs. Although the abs are a very important part of the core, they are not the only muscle that it is composed of. The core is like a belt; it consists of muscles that are on the front, side, and back of your body. This post will focus on these 3 muscles of the core (there are more involved, but I will focus on these for this post).
Rectus Abdominus (Abs)
- Originates on ribs 5-12
- Inserts on the iliac crest
- The erector spinae are actually a few muscles grouped together
- Originate on the posterior portion of the iliac crest
- Inserts on the T1 and T2 vertebrae and the cervical vertebrae
The function of the core as a whole is to stabilize the spine. This is why core strength is imperative for athletic function. When a linebacker makes a tackle, he needs a strong core to ensure his lower back stays straight, like a pillar, in order to deliver maximum force.
Each muscle that makes up the core also has an individual role:
- The main function of the abs is to flex the spine
- This muscle also compresses the abdomen (this is what you do when you brace for a punch to the stomach)
- Rotates the spine
- Laterally flexes the spine
- Similar to the abs, the obliques flex the spine forwards as well
DO YOU NEED TO DO DIRECT CORE WORK?
Yes. You do. A lot of people don’t do direct core work because they believe that squats and deadlifts will hit their core sufficiently. This would be similar to not training biceps directly because they are hit during your back workout. While it is true that these exercises do involve a high level of core activation, direct work will be very beneficial, not only for aesthetic purposes, but also for strength. Elite powerlifters and weightlifters squat and deadlift (or some variation of them) almost every single day, yet they still do direct core work. Here is Konstantin Konstantinovs, an elitle powerlifter, training his core directly. Here is Apti Aukhadov, an elite weightlifter, doing direct ab work. If these guys, who train for strength, feel the need to train their core, so should you.
A common question that people have when it comes to training abs is “How can I bring up my lower abs?”. The scientific answer to this is that you can’t. The abs, both lower and upper, are one muscle. Either the entire muscle contracts, or none of it contracts.
Visibility of abs is another very common concern. Most of you have probably heard the following quote, “Abs are made in the kitchen”. This has some truth to it. For your abs to be visible, you have to be at a certain body fat (usually below 10%). But that does not mean you shouldn’t train your abs. Just like any other muscle, the more you work your abs, the larger they will grow. So by working your abs, you can increase the body fat percentage that it will take for them to be visible at (maybe instead of having to be at 10% to see your abs, you can be at 12% and see them).
As I’ve mentioned in previous 101 posts, to work a muscle optimally, you have to fully stretch a muscle, and then fully contract it. The abs are stretched when the spine is extended, and are flexed when the spine is flexed.
Crunches are probably the most popular abs exercise there is, and rightfully so. They are extremely effective and targeting the muscle. Doing crunches on the ground can limit the stretch you can achieve in your abs. To combat this, it can be very beneficial to perform crunches on an exercise ball instead. IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski demonstrates how he performs crunches on an exercise ball here.
Cable crunches are another great exercise. These are my personal favorite ab exercise. What separates these from normal crunches is that you can use some heavier weights while doing these. More weight has been shown to correlate with more muscle growth. It is also very easy to get a great stretch and contraction with this variation of the crunch.
Hanging leg raises can be done in a number of different ways for people at different levels. A beginner can do a variation such as this, whereas advanced individuals can do something like this. Progressions that people can use for these are: back support and knees to chest, back support and legs to chest, no back support and knees to chest, and then no back support and legs to chest.
These are the muscles that you want to train to get that “V” musclepeople try to achieve.
Woodchoppers are a great exercise and target the obliques by utilizing their rotational function. These also allow you to use heavier weights, which can be very beneficial to muscular growth.
Side crunches and side bends utilize the obliques through their side flexion function. Side crunches are a really great way to really feel your obliques working, and are an exercise that allows you to maintain a high amount of control.
Keep in mind that the obliques also flex the spine forwards, so they will be used in all exercises that target the abs as well.
The erector spinae are a very powerful and important muscle. The development of this muscle is extremely important for strength related sports, such as weightlifters, due to the fact that it plays a massive role in cleans and snatches, and also is very important for overhead movements. The erector spinae are trained through extending the spine.
Hyperextensions are an amazing way to strengthen your lower back. The video linked above for hyperextensions is an advanced version. These can be done with just your bodyweight, or by holding a plate to your chest. If you can get a barbell to your back, then you can mimic the video, but it is not essential to use a barbell.
Slow negative deadlifts are my favourite lower back exercise. Try to make the negative portion last 5+ seconds, and your lower back will be on fire. When you are lowering the weight at a slow rate, your erector spinae will be fighting like crazy to keep your spine from flexing/rounding.
OVERALL CORE TRAINING
Remember that the function of the core overall is to stabilize and keep the spine straight. There are great exercises to target your core as a whole as well.
All of the above exercises have one thing in common. They strengthen the function of the core by requiring you to keep your spine straight and stable the entire time. They have great carryover for both athletic and aesthetic purposes.
- The core is composed of many muscles
- The core as a whole functions to stabilize the spine
- Abs function is to flex the spine forwards
- Obliques flex the spine forwards and laterally, and rotate the spine
- Erector Spinae extend the spine
- Direct ab work is very beneficial for all training purposes
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