Among the most common questions personal trainers are asked are “How do I get a six pack?” This is a great question because six packs look super cool and who doesn’t want to look super cool? Everybody internet trainer and their mother (or maybe their gym bro)swears they have the answer or even the shortcut to this question. The reality is there are not really any shortcuts and to get a sweet looking sixpack. The easiest way is to have the super cool gene pool and be born with a low body fat level or take toxic drugs which side effects are probably not worth a super cool six pack. Otherwise be prepared to eat a clean sustainable diet and increase the calories that you expend during exercise so you can slowly and safely bring your body fat levels down. Then you can start to work on direct abdominal sculpting via traditional abdominal exercise.
That, as you have gathered from the title, is not what this post is about. Six packs look super cool, but your core has a considerably more vital function for your body. The core is loose term that refers to all of the musculature between your hips and your ribcage. With that being said, some of its most vital functions include creating stability in your trunk over your hips ,creating an ideal transfer of force between your upper and lower body and protecting your spine as well as your organs from unnecessary force. The core serves all of these functions in both times of exercise as well as in everyday life. So I wish that people more often asked their trainers, “How do I create a more healthy, functional core that will help me perform better and live a better quality of life?”
Wishful thinking. But that is what this post is about. I want people reading this to get in better touch with their core so they can stop mindlessly doing crunches and start thinking about utilizing their core to squat more and better and have less issues with their posture(this is a good place to start) and stop wrecking their spines. The first thing to understand is the difference between the rectus abdominis vs the transverse abdominis. The visible sixpack that most people associate with abs are a group of muscles called rectus abdominis. The primary function of this muscle group is to flex the lumbar spine. In other words: to shorten the distance from the ribcage to the pelvis on the anterior or front of you body. So the most efficient exercises to train for sixpack exercises will focus on only this task. Doing cool extra movements kicking your legs and swinging your elbows is trash.
The transverse abominis is a group of muscles underneath the rectus adominis which primarily functions to stabilize the spine and remove tension from the spine. It does this by pulling the adominals inward and upward against the diaphragm while pushing down against the pelvic floor. This makes a huge difference in the amount of compression your spine has to endure. For this reason, it is advised anytime someone is looking to move heavy weight in almost any direction one must activate the transverse abdominis. How do you activate transverse adominis? Essentially it looks like sucking your belly in. For some people, particularly my particularly self conscious friends thats easy, they do it all the time- for pictures and when they go on dates.. whatever no judgement. For you folks I just push you to reinterpret that movement as something not only for vanity also important for life. When you lift heavy grocery bags, squat under a barbell at the gym or even lift boxes of junk you bought from amazon prime off your doorstep- suck in!
For many other people who may not have done physical activity for a period of time it may be difficult to get a feel for what sucking may feel like. For these folks I got a cool little trick. Lay on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground and place your hands around your belly button and think about creating tension under that hand. Do ten reputations of tension creating(I will have to trademark that one.) From there you can switch your focus to thinking about hollowing out. Do ten reps of hollowing. Focus on moving that hand down without pushing. This is an important sensation to get the hang of to start thinking about keeping your spine safe, which will in turn be a beginning step to reducing some of the causes of the ever so common lower back pain.
So that is the first step to creating a more functional core- recruiting the transverse abdominis. But if you have ever had an extended conversation with a fitness professional you know we don’t stop at step one or set 1. If you just did 10 reps, you should probably do ten more. So here are some other basic, but functional core movements for a healthier core. Progress to them slowly if you have not been particularly active within the last six months.
Cat- Camel- Stolen from yoga
This exercise is technically a mobility movement that will be useful if you have not have not been particularly active in the last six months.
Get in a position on the floor, on your hands and knees where your arms and legs are parallel and shoulder width apart. Engage your core while you are in the starting position, where your back is parallel to the ground.
From here exhale slowly while sucking your belly button in to you spine and push your entire back into a upwardly rounded shape.
Then slowly inhale ad expand your ribcage while dropping your back into an inwardly rounded shape.
Perform ten repetitions.
Most of us have likely seen this before, but most of have also likely seen this butchered. A proper plank is done by creating a straight line from the crown of your head to the base of your ankles. This will be done by bending your elbows ninety degrees and resting your weight on your forearms. From here I teach going through a mental checklist
1- Getting your neck into a straight line with you back and tucking your chin
2- Pulling your shoulder blades back and down
3- Tightening your core
4- Squeezing your butt like you are holding in a fart and making sure its not sagging below that straight line.
5- Get stable! Quality over the number on the stopwatch. Once you have some good form down, then beat your best times.
Deadlift Some heavy ass Weight!
I bet you thought I was going to show you some cool spiderman, crunch flex 5000 done with my shirt off so I can prove how awesome I am. N0, I think a properly executed deadlift is a great show of core stability, and will carry over to a great quality of life. I won’t go into how to perform this movement because it will turn into a 5000 word thesis driven argument.
Hey! Thanks For Reading. My name is Pranav Arora but you can call me PJ! I am a listener, a thinker, a goofball and a personal trainer located in Pittsburgh PA. I love the work that I do and I hope that you found this blog valuable. If so subscribe for more posts just like this!