Abs. Everyone wants them. It seems logical to get them, we need to train them. Them – the abs. So most trainers send their clients on a schedule of “core exercises” to get that blazing hot summer body but, what if that’s all a load of shit…
The “core” is the collection of muscles that stabilize the spine. It is composed of all of the abs, the three layers of the side abdominal wall, the posterior spinal muscles, the pelvic floor muscles, the hip flexors, and actually the diaphragm and the intercostals, although that may be working a little too far north. All these parts/areas work together to control spinal position, which normally means keeping the spine neutral/safe during work involving force generated by the hips and legs. This happens when force is transferred through the trunk to a resistance at the hands, or in the specific training situation created by the squat, on the back or shoulders. The “core” muscles protect us from injury – specifically, injury involving the spine. They are extremely important in all sports, especially the barbell sports, not just how you look naked. They are a tool, not a show piece and we should train them accordingly, for function, not for flaunting.
Where Others Fail and Why Weightlifting Works
The problem with the concept of training specifically for “core” stabilization is that it doesn’t make any sense. This is leaving aside the argument of potential rehab / injury strengthening. Nearly EVERY movement in sports and in daily life utilizes the pelvic and trunk musculature to stabilize the spine during the given movement, functioning as anything but a normal link in the kinetic chain. The “motor” is the hips and legs and the “transmission” is the spine. Without a big motor, the transmission has nothing hard to do. Spinal stability is of the utmost importance; when the whole system is loaded, the motor and the transmission adapt together at the same time. The entire kinetic chain is developed by barbell training because squats, deadlifts, presses, and the Olympic lifts utilize the entire kinetic chain – and therefore strengthen the entire kinetic chain in the same way you’re going to use it – FUNCTIONAL FITNESS.
But trainers that don’t use or understand external loads (like barbells, KBs, or sandbags) wouldn’t know this? They have been taught to prescribe isolation movements on motorized, “safe”, selectorized machines that require no balance, and therefore no coordinated use of the axial and appendicular skeleton. A trainer that brings such a limited perspective into the weight room might well be of the opinion that the only way to train the “core” is to perform iso-lateral movements while balanced on a Swiss ball. If the only type of exercise you are trained to perform leaves out the coordinated use of the hips, the spine, and all the stuff above and below it working at the same time, I guess you might believe that crunches and swiss ball twists are super effective and/or useful. These types of movements are roughly equivalent to the stresses encountered when walking through a crowded bar without spilling your beer or while cleaning the house thoroughly, and they cannot provide the stress necessary to cause an already-trained athlete to progress.
Adaptation to stress is either specific, or it’s not. Example: Which actually happens: the shovel handle makes calluses on the palm of your hand, or it makes calluses on the back of your hand? Do runners, tennis players, volleyball players, judo players, or any other athletes that you can think of without getting too exotic actually compete on an unstable surface under extremely submaximal force production conditions? No. Then why expect this type of training to be useful to any but the most absolutely untrained of novices?
People lack understanding that the body functions as a system, and as a result it is best trained that way. Barbell/resistance training affects the entire body, including the “core” right along with it. To the modern conventional exercise practitioner, there is always an isolation exercise for every isolated muscle weakness, and in specific cases, especially regarding rehab or injuries, they can be useful – in those cases.