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Cut to the Core

Posted Sep 30 2010 5:26am

A couple of weeks ago, this fancy machine made its debut at my gym:

(Click for soure)

You are looking at the Ab Coaster, which you may have seen many infomercials about if your gym is like mine and plays them on the TVs over, and over, and over again.

I don’t mean to knock the Ab Coaster – after all, if it’s on TV all the time, it must be at least somewhat effective – but personally, I’m not a fan of  ‘ab machines’. This is because I think a lot of the best core moves can be done without them.  I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about my core workout last week, which inspired me to, once again, shake it up.

First things first: What exactly is “the core”?

(Click for source)

If you’re thinking it’s your abs, that’s not all! Many people forget that the muscles in their mid and lower backs are also part of the core, and need to be just as strong as the ones that make up the abdominals. The core includes the following muscle groups:

  1. Rectus Abdominis: This muscle runs along the front of the abdomen, and is the main muscle that you work when performing the typical crunch. The rectus abdominis is responsible for spinal flexion, which is the movement you make when crunching.
  2. External Obliques: These are located at the sides and front of your abs.
  3. Internal Obliques: These lie underneath the external obliques. Both the internal and external obliques help you to rotate your torso.
  4. Transverse Absominis: This is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It is located under the obliques.
  5. Erector Spinae: These muscles run from your neck down to your lower back.

The glutes are also contributors to core strength, and some articles also include the hip flexors, multifidus, and hip adductors. I’ll just keep it to 5 for now so this doesn’t turn into an anatomy textbook.

(Click for source)

Benefits of a strong core: So why bother training all these muscles? Well, in addition to looking great, you’ll also benefit from:

  • Improved posture
  • Improved functional fitness, or increased ability to perform daily activities (since your core is a major stabilizer that helps the rest of your body to move)
  • Lower risk of/reduced lower back pain issues
  • Decreased risk of other injuries
  • Improved athletic performance due to an increased ability to generate force and transfer energy to the limbs

Today I’ve got a core workout for you that I’ve been doing on alternate days for the past week. Unlike some of the ‘core workouts’ you see posted elsewhere, this one also includes the often-neglected back muscles. I usually do it as my main strength workout after a cardio session (as in, not combined with any other muscle groups) because it takes quite a while.

Perform all exercises in Circuit 1 three times, taking 1 minute rest in between each of the 3 sets. Take another minute rest, then move on to the next circuit. Again, repeat circuits 2 and 3 three times each.

Circuit 1:

  • Medicine ball twists on a BOSU: Sit on the rounded side of a BOSU with knees together and bent at about 45 degrees. Hold a medicine ball in your hands, bring the feet a few inches above the ground, and rotate your core so that the ball comes down toward your left side. Reverse and twist to the right, repeating the motion until you’ve twisted 30 times. To make this harder, use a heavier medicine ball or extend your arms so that they are almost straight.
  • Oblique mountain climbers: Get into pushup position on your hands and toes, facing the floor. Keeping your hands still, bend your right leg and draw your right knee up to your right elbow. Quickly return it back to the starting position, and do the same on the left side, crunching through the obliques each time. Do 30 reps as fast as you can. To make it harder, place hands on a BOSU ball (rounded side down) instead of the floor.

    (Click for source)

  • Bicycle: Lie on your back with your knees bent at 45 degrees and hands placed lightly at the sides of your head, elbows pointing outward. Lifting your shoulder blades off the floor, bring your left knee and right elbow together. As you extend the left leg back out, draw the right knee and left elbow together. Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed 30 reps (15 each side). Feet should stay off the floor the whole time, and to make this more difficult, hover the feet just a few inches above the floor. (The higher up they are and the faster you do this, the easier it is).

    (Click for source)

Circuit 2:

  • Lying leg lifts: Lie on your back with legs extended on the floor and a dumbell in each hand, shoulder-width apart, extended towards the ceiling. Keeping your legs together, lift them up towards the left dumbell. Slowly lower them towards the floor (but don’t let them touch!) and lift them up again towards the right dumbell. Keep alternating until you’ve done 20 reps total (10 each side).
  • BOSU plank: Get into plank position (either on toes with legs completely straight, or with knees resting on the floor) and rest forearms on the rounded side of a BOSU. Hold for 1 minute, then release. Be careful not to let your butt dip down or point up towards the ceiling – try to keep a straight line from your head to toes. To make this harder, flip 2 BOSUs so that the rounded side faces down. In plank position, place hands or forearms on one, and toes on the other.
  • Ball crunch: Perform a traditional crunch while sitting on a stability ball. To make this more difficult, hold a weight plate near your chest, or extend your arms so that you’re holding it straight out in front of you. Do 15 reps.
  • BOSU Bird-Dog: Kneel on the rounded side of a BOSU, placing hands flat just in front of the knees. At the same time, extend the right leg and left arm. Slowly return to starting position, then repeat with the left leg and right arm. Do 20 reps. If this is too difficult, remove the BOSU and perform the exercise on the floor.

    (Click for source)

Circuit 3:

  • Ball back extension: Place a stability ball under your hips so that you are facing downward, and position the soles of your feet against a wall. Knees should be off the ground and your back should be straight, forming a 45 degree angle with the floor. Holding your hands lightly at the sides of your head, and lower your upper body towards the floor. Contract the lower back muscles to return to the starting position. Do 15 reps.

    (Click for source)

  • Ball plank: Perform the same exercise as described in the BOSU plank in Circuit 2, but with your forearms resting on a stability ball instead of a BOSU. Hold for 30-60s.
  • Superman/woman: Lie face-down on the floor with legs straight and arms extended above your head. Keeping your head neutral, contract the lower back muscles and lift both feet and both hands above the ground, then slowly lower back down.

No fancy shmancy slippy slidey machines needed here! This workout can easily be done at home, and the only equipment you need is dumbells (or 2 weighted objects, such as waterbottles) and a stability ball. The BOSU can be replaced by a pillow, which also provides instability.

One more….

Now, if you still haven’t had enough, or if you think the circuits above are too easy, I’ve got one more exercise for you. This is one that I’m working on at the moment, and one I don’t normally do without Mr T’s supervision in order to prevent any sort of landing flat on my face. I assure you, it is not easy!!!

(Click for source and information on proper initial setup)

Starting in the position above, lift the right forearm and straighten the right arm, placing the right hand on the ball. Do the same with the left hand, so both arms are straight with palms pressing into the ball. Return to the starting position, one hand at a time, then repeat. Try 10 times, and if you can do it, I’m impressed! :)

Alright, time for me to get to work, then drive to the Lululemon Warehouse Sale. Wish me (and my VISA) luck! :D

Things to do/my questions for today:

  • Need more ideas? Check out my Workouts Page , or this article from Best Health.
  • Do you have a preference for machines vs body weight/free weight exercises in the gym? Any favourites?

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