We often hear the word ‘core’ and automatically think of ‘six pack abs!’ But actually, your core runs deeper than that, and the training extends to a much wider variety of exercise than just crunches, says Bank VPT Dan Mhende.
When training your core it is important to understand the different muscles that make up the core and which exercises target those muscles effectively. I have picked a few key essentials for different core goals:
Tightening up those ‘love handles’ and strengthen your lower back
To effectively target your your internal and external obliques (AKA your love handles), intercostals (AKA ‘the spare ribs’) and lower erector spinae muscles (lower back), try the Olympic Barbell landmine 180 for size. This exercise requires you to stand shoulder width apart, firmly gripping the barbell with both hands at one side, either with or without additional weight. If you don’t have a landmine bracket then use the corner of a room or the solid corner of a fixed machine.
Once in position, with your knees slightly bent to avoid excessive patella friction, rotate the barbell from left to right making sure you keep your hips facing forward and exhaling while externally rotating. The muscle contractions occur when rotating deeply, so be sure to put some power into the movement in order to achieve maximum rotation without compromising your hip position. Breathing is key, so be sure to put your diaphragm (the primary muscle for respiration) to good use, and try to squeeze the obliques when you reach maximum rotation. This exercise is also a huge calorie burner, and recruits many other muscle groups.
‘Washboard abs’ that can take a hit and make heads turn
The most seen and aesthetically pleasing part of the core is undoubtedly the rectus abdominis (AKA the six pack or washboard), although the large external (much loved) muscle would be nothing to shout about without its internal partner, the transversus abdominis (muscle of the anterior and lateral wall and main core stabiliser). When effectively targeting this area think ‘breathing’ once again and make sure you brace your diaphragm. Try the popular wide grip Ez Barbell rollout for size, to not only maximise your abdominal density, but also your abdominal definition. This also applies to the serratus anterior which lies along the posterior lateral ribcage, and is often described as the ‘superhero muscle.’
Start with your knees placed firmly on mat or soft surface while your shoulders sit slightly in front of the bar. You want to already be squeezing your rectus and transversus abdominis in this starting position.
Then proceed forward while inhaling. (Conscious of your shoulder position).
Try to reach the full 180 degree rollout with your hips slightly higher than your torso position and your head in line with your torso. This is where you stop inhaling, brace your diaphragm, hold your breath for a split second and prepare to return back to the starting position. Make sure your return movement is slow and concentrated with a slow exhale and a steady demeanor. Your CNS (central nervous system) is on overdrive at this time and will require you to concentrate on all the elements of the movement so you can maximise muscle tension.
Those stubborn lower abs: “Why can’t I get lower abs, I just feel bloated?”
One of the most common questions I hear from clients when it comes to getting more out of your core is: “Why can’t I get lower abs, I just feel bloated?”
- If you drink excessive liquids without perspiration, for example ‘enough exercise’ you will be bloated (the liquid can’t be processed or released).
- If you save the majority of your calories for before bed then you will be bloated. (The stomach has to be consistently active otherwise it will shrink and feel bloated when overloaded sporadically).
- If you have a large evening meal that consists of mainly carbohydrates, refined sugars and alcohol, you will be bloated. (The digestive system works at a slower pace while sleeping).
- If you have any form of food intolerance for example ‘lactose intolerance’ (like many of us have) then you will be bloated. (Not every stomach agrees with the food we eat). Even healthy options can inflame our stomachs or intestines.
These points not only restrict your visualisation of the lower abdominals but also your ability to contract them effectively.
Effectively targeting the lower abs
Select a manageable weight on the cable machine then attach two handles to your feet via the lower position on the machine. Grab hold of a solid object and position your torso to feel a stretch across your abdominals.
Gradually lift both your feet, holding onto as much tension across the lower abdominals as you can.
Try to hold on to as much abdominal tension as possible (ignoring your arms and hip flexors) and exhale deeply whilst reaching a maximum contraction across the abdominals.
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