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The Princeton Longevity Center Medical News

The Do’s and Don’ts of CORE training

By: Tom O'Connor, MS, CSCS

Core training has been a hot topic of the fitness industry for years.  Among its benefits, this training has been shown to reduce injury, relieve lower back pain and provide us with the highly sought after six pack abs! However, there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to the truths and myths about core training. Endless crunches DO NOT lead to the perfect beach stomach. Twenty-nine muscles ultimately make up the body’s core. If you’re not working them all and in the right way – you’re probably not going to get the results you’re after and your work out could actually lead to injury.

The illustration below shows the major muscle groups involved
Abd Muscles

[1] RECTUS ABDOMINIS
[2] EXTERNAL + [3] INTERNAL OBLIQUES
[4] TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS

Here are some basic Do’s and Don’ts of Core type training.

Do’s of Core Training

  • Do perform core training 2-5 times per week. – You should perform core training depending on your needs and training history.  Elite athletes can and will need up to 5 days of multi-modal core training at certain times of their training.  The average person may be able to get by with only 2 days of core training depending on their needs.
  • Do perform exercises to work on all of the core muscles.  – You will need exercises to work on the rectus abdominis (front abs), and transverse abdominus, lower back muscles, and even the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm.  Having a proper assessment of which muscles may be weak or underactive would be ideal to more properly integrate them into your routine.
  • Do perform a variety of types of core exercises.  This includes concentric, eccentric, and isometric movements.  Concentric movements (muscles shortens) are your typical crunch and will usually fatigue before an eccentric movement (muscle lengthens), which is letting the abdominals lengthen on the way down from the crunch.  Isometric movements are a contraction with no changes in length of the muscle.  You can think of this as bracing your stomach (making your stomach hard prior to a blow to the gut).
  • Do keep a more neutral spine during most crunch movements (where the spine is the position between leaning all the way backwards and forwards). A neutral spine is crucial to lower back and hip health.  According to the American College of Sports Medicine, avoiding the end range of motion in the spine during activity can reduce the risk of several types of injury.

Don’ts of Core Training

    • Don’t perform core training 7 times per week. – It is very easy to overuse and overtrain our muscles, especially if we are working them to a relative fatigue daily.  This type of training does not allow for adequate recovery and can lead to muscle imbalances due to overuse.
    • Don’t perform just crunches as your entire core workout.  – Crunches typically work the rectus abdominus (the six pack muscles), hip flexors, and some other helper muscles.  Crunches tend not to focus on the entire length of the rectus abdominus. Depending on your crunch form, you may be concentrating more on the upper region of the rectus abdominus instead of the entire area of the muscles.
    • Don’t perform only concentric type movements.  This is the more traditional type of core routine such as crunches and hyperextension (back crunches).  The core functions in a variety of ways and while concentric contractions are needed, most of our functional use for core type exercises is isometric (stability) and dynamic (movement).
    • Don’t perform excessive exercise where the spine is pushed all the way forward or backwards.  Pushing to the end range of motion can help in some cases, but excessive use and trauma can cause tissue overload and injury.
 

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