The core is a popular focus area for many exercise programs.
Let’s chat about how to work it efficiently and effectively.
First of all – remember that spot reducing is a myth! No matter how many crunches and planks you do, you will not burn more fat in your abdomen area.
What does come close to spot reducing, however, is cardiovascular exercise During cardio the body utilizes more intra-abdominal fat – the fat that is closest to the organs of the abdomen. This is great news. These fat cells are very active in promoting inflammation and disease – so keep the cardio going to reduce this hazardous type body fat and improve health.
Beyond that – more core work does not mean less fat around your core. Please consider this if you spend a good portion of your exercise time on your abs/core. Ask yourself why am I doing this? Am I trying to spot reduce (myth based) or improve function (science based)?
The core is a general term used for all that is in the middle of the body – the abdomen, side body and back. The core is specifically designed to hold the body together while protecting some really important parts – the spine and the organs. If it didn’t have to be so flexible to allow us to move, it would probably be a bone – like our rib cage- that protects our heart and lungs. For this reason, the network of muscles in this area is designed for stability with flexibility.
There are several muscles at work for different function in this area. The key muscle for stability is the Transverse Abdominal (TA) muscle. It wraps around from the spine to the front of the belly. The TA helps support the neutral alignment of the spine. When it contracts it also stimulates contraction of the muscles supporting the spine and the pelvic floor. Talk about an efficient design! The key for improving function is the ability to activate it when we need it.
Certain exercises, like planks, strengthen the TA. However, we gain the most function when we are able to consciously turn on this muscle when we are upright and using our arms and legs. So, we need to train our brain to activate this muscle while doing other things like lifting, carrying, lifting overhead, etc. Some core exercises can cause more harm than good. See this video by The Tummy Team about why crunches don’t work. It is difficult to teach the proper way to use the TA in writing. For starters, check out this video . Hope Zvara does a nice job explaining how the ribs are a key part of core health and function and how to start working the TA.
The Bottom Line:
- Spot reducing is a myth. Extra core work is not the answer to extra weight around the middle – regular exercise and managing food intake for general weight loss is the key
- The purpose of core exercises is to maximize function and stability in this area to protect the spine and organs
- Some core exercises can harm the core muscles and the structure of the spine, especially if you have a weakness in this area such as a hernia, diastasis recti or pain/injury to the back
- Proper alignment of your skeleton is essential for the best function of core muscles. The correct positioning of your joints – especially the hips and rib cage – then using the muscles designed to maintain that position improves function and reduces the risk of injury
- To train the core for function, learn how to activate it consciously in an upright position and practice using it during daily activities
Check out this article. It is a useful summary of the mindset for efficient and effective approaches to exercise for the goal of living well.
Want to learn more about how to effectively use this information in your exercise routine and daily living? Contact me to set up a 30 minute video phone coaching session.
I look forward to your comments.
Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC