Core training is about much more than flattening your belly. Working your core effectively can improve stability, maintain mobility, and reduce injuries of all kinds. If you are the lone soul in the corner of the gym doing hundreds of crunches and situps in hopes of achieving a six-pack, you may be crunching in vain.
Abs vs. Core
Unlike many coaches out there, I don’t have a problem with sit-ups, crunches, or most of their derivatives. I just don’t like it when they’re called “core workouts.” Doing a ton of crunches can be an effective way to train some very specific abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis and to a lesser extent the external or internal oblique muscles) but what is often forgotten (or skipped) are all the other muscles that make up the core. Simply focusing on your abs alone is an improper way to use your torso and can lead to some imbalances and pain.
We need a strong core to maintain a stable torso while we move through this world, whether we are lifting heavy items, carrying heavy loads, or transferring power from our hips while throwing a ball or using a broom. A stable and strong core with the capacity to resist the push and pull of outside forces is infinitely more useful and more important than being able to do hanging ab crunches from the loft in a barn (Rocky style).
Sure, if you want those popping six-pack abs, crunches are a must, but keep in mind that in order to really get six-pack abs, you mostly have to shed fat. Men, you will need to get your body fat to about six percent, and women to around nine percent, and if you read the article Body Fat: How to Use It and Lose It, you’ll know that neither of those percentages is particularly healthy.
Instead of doing crunches, the exercise known as the plank is a far more useful core exercise. Just as the name implies, when doing a plank you are forming a strong, stable platform with your body, from your toes to your head.
Planks are a great alternative to all that crunching because as you will soon find out, they can help improve your entire core strength and stability which among other things can protect against injury. In fact, in a study about plank and side plank on injury rates in soccer players, the researchers found that “… prevention programs including strengthening exercises for core muscles tend to positively affect the injury rate.”
Planks also activate the muscles in your abdomen to support your posture and share the workload with your back muscles to keep you upright.
Plus, if you get into all the variations, planks don’t just work your core—they can work much of your body. Plank variations require your arms, your legs, and all of your abs, and a study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine found that doing side planks could actually help reduce spinal curvature in scoliosis patients. That means planking can even help reduce your chances of developing spinal problems as you age.
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