With beach season rapidly approaching, most people are probably becoming very concerned with the appearance of their midsection, regardless of their sport. And so, at gyms all over the country, you will doubtlessly see an increase in the attendance at “core training” classes and possibly even a line developing around the abdominal machines.
Although it seems like this sort of focus on the condition of our abs is nothing new, the whole idea of core training has seen a new increase. But is it just vanity or can working your abs really serve a functional purpose?
What Is Core Training?
Before we discuss the real-world usefulness of core training, we should have a clear understanding of what it is. For some people, this phrase translates to countless crunches until they’re stuck in the fetal position. Many more, however, turn to the ever-growing number of books and fitness plans that all claims to hold the secret to sculpted abs.
True core training is much more than this, though. First, it’s important to understand that the “core” being trained isn’t just the abs but includes many muscles that sometimes get neglected. The “core” accounts for the hips, lower back and shoulders as well since all of these muscle groups contribute to stability and balance during movement. And that is the long-forgotten purpose of the abs: they hold us upright and support the body through just about every activity.
Can It Help Runners?
With that in mind, it makes sense to consider the possibility that core training could improve the performance of just about any athlete. Specifically, research has focused on the efficiency of core training for runners, with interesting results.
A 2009 study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research split 28 healthy adults into two groups: one followed a 6-week core training program, the other did not. Both groups were tested before and after the program for balance, speed and their body’s ability to absorb the impact of running. At the end, it was found that while balance and impact absorption didn’t improve with core training, running speed did.
While more research is needed, this study shows promise for core training. It is possible, however, that the increase in speed with due to a rise in cardiovascular efficiency cause by the workout. But that doesn’t mean you should skip your core training since, as mentioned, a good core routine means a lot more than just crunches.
Building Your Routine
Let’s consider the crunch and the structure of your abs. The primary muscle in this group is the rectus abdominis, which is responsible for the movement of our torso in several directions. Now imagine the classic crunch: You lay on your back and bring your ribs close to your pelvis.
This is not the natural function of the rectus abdominis. While it is true that the muscle can perform this movement, how useful is it? Do you bring your ribs to your pelvis when you walk? Since the abs are there to support upright movement, we need to focus on exercises that simulate that sort of activity.
Use planks and glute bridges to strengthen core stability since these exercise require balance and control. For a greater challenge which will give you more strength, and muscle tone, try wood chops, side bends and lunges followed by a twist.
A well designed core program could not only improve your athletic performance but could even help boost your quality of life.
Have you benefited from a decent core training routine? Please share your tips in the comments.