Evolution of Core Training


It’s tough to argue with science.  I think most of us agree with that statement, but there’s a stubborn group of exercisers that clings to obsolete ideas about core (abdominal) training.  Despite new science showing that crunches and low back extensions are not very good for us, they are the two exercises defended most vehemently.  Pythagoras and Aristotle probably encountered similar resistance trying to sell others on their evidence that the earth was indeed spherical.  Well, I’m here to stir things up by saying crunches and back extensions are going the way of the dinosaurs!

Current evidence has changed cutting edge thinking about core training.  As we better understanding core function, we see that abdominal muscles are meant to stabilize rather than create movement.  What’s more, spinal movement created by crunches and back extensions actually increase risk of low back injury!  This presents a strong case for changing our thinking and our training.

Of course, that begs the question, “Okay, so what do I do now?!”  Here are some ideas:

  • Forget crunches (machine, floor, slant board), sit-ups, twisting crunches, leg raises, and back extensions to spare your low back undue stress.
  • Abandon machine based core training, except for pulleys.  Machines violate just about everything we know about human function – the body doesn’t work that way, so we shouldn’t train it that way.
  • Train core stabilization from lots of different angles.  Exercises like planks, bridges, bird dogs, pulley rotations, pulley chops / lifts, rollouts, and half Turkish get-ups are just a handful of great movements to work core stability while saving the spine.

An inevitable question is, “What about six pack abs?”  Well, the (perhaps unwelcome) answer is – that’s all about reducing body fat, mainly through diet, and it has very little to do with core training.  For many women it’s actually an unattainable or unhealthy goal because, as body fat decreases to very low levels, adverse hormonal issues can arise.  It’s generally a difficult goal because the habits required to achieve such a low body fat level are too stringent for most people to sustain, regardless of health risks.  An alternative approach is to exercise to improve function, have solid dietary habits, and let the aesthetic take care of itself.

Learn something new!


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Michael Bento is an Advanced Trainer at the Clubs at Charles River Park. He holds a Masters degree in Human Movement and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Corrective Exercise Specialist and Performance Enhancement Specialist.

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