Building A Stronger You from the Core Up
By Martin Brown
Whenever we ignore the importance of abdominal strengthening, we’re creating a great example of how we often sacrifice the good for the perfect. Why? Because, when it comes to our abs we all know what perfection looks like: it’s a flat, beautifully toned tummy. What gets lost in the search for that ideal is the simple fact that you can have a very strong core with a well conditioned set of abdominal muscles on the inside but not that beautifully toned tummy look on the outside.
What we don’t realize is that only a very small percentage of women or men are genetically predisposed to “ripped abs.” The reason for this is the vast majority of us have bodies that are inclined to store a certain amount of fat between our abdominal muscle wall and our outer skin. Certain people have bodies that will tuck that extra fat into their upper thighs, butt, arms, and mostly avoid the abdomen. If like most people, however, your body stores a higher degree of fat around your tummy and waist you can diet and ab crunch day and night and still have a very difficult if not impossible time getting that much desired hard abs look.
Moving beyond that ideal, however, there is a great deal to be said in praise of a well toned, powerful body core and that depends essentially on conditioning your abdominal muscles. Here’s the why and how:
1. It’s a myth that a strong back protects you from lower back pain– because the muscles in front and to the side of your abdomen have almost as much to do with your ability to walk, swim, bike, play tennis, reach for that suitcase in the overhead storage bin, and do a thousand other things.
2. Your body’s core is the area around your trunk and pelvis. When we focus solely on abs we lose the bigger picture of the vital importance of having a strong core. When you have good core stability, the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen work in harmony. Weak core muscles invite poor posture, which is the root cause of most lower back pain and muscle injuries.
3. Our core and abdominal muscles in particular are probably the most complex part of our muscular structure. Therefore, because body position and alignment are crucial when it comes to core exercises, you might want to consider taking a session with a fitness trainer or physical therapist to help you perfect your technique. If not, you will find online a lot of good abdominal exercise routines, one of which is featured on About.com.
Also, the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Core Conditioning is a great picture-filled how to guide to all the movement and resistance exercises you’ll ever need.
4. Two important factors to remember when starting out:
First, take it slow. Concentrate on performing each exercise using correct technique. All muscles respond better to proper technique, but this is particularly true of your abdominals.
Next, take the time to gradually build up to a greater number of repetitions. You did not get out of condition in a matter of days or weeks; don’t try to get into condition in seven days. Finally remember that your body gets stronger through rest and recovery. When you have completed your core strengthening exercises give yourself a 24-hours rest before your next exercise session.