Core Strength Prevents Back Injuries
What many people do not know is that core strength is important for not just looking good, but for preventing lowerback pain too!
As we age we are more prone to lower back problems and/or injuries. Building a strong core will help give us the stability that we need. A strong core will help offset lower back problems or injuries that are associated with aging.
In my late forties and early fifties I use to be plague by lower back pains. At times the muscles would tighten up so much that I could not stand straight, and looking at my spine it would resemble a snake. Other times I just had to lay flat for days before I could move about comfortably. I did not want to live with the fear that my back may go out at any given time. I then decided to get serious about my abs and lower back workouts and strengthening my body's core. Now at the young age of 61 my back problems have virtually gone away and I owe it all to my core strengthening.
Getting to the Core of It All - The Abdominal Muscles
The abdominal muscles are a group of 6 muscles that extend from various places on the ribs to various places on the pelvis. They provide movement and support to the trunk, often called the core. They also aid in the breathing process. Abdominal muscles also play a role defining the form (with strength exercises). For example, the most superficial abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominus, gives the 6-pack ab effect when it is worked to a high degree of fitness. More structurally, the deeper and closer to the spine the particular abdominal muscle is, the more effect over body posture it will have, and this often contributes significantly to a healthy back.
The six abdominal muscles all affect body posture. The deeper the muscle is located (i.e. the closer to the spine), the more powerful effect it will have, and therefore, the greater capacity it will have for creating and maintaining a healthy spine. From deep to superficial the abdominal muscles include: transverse abdominals, the internal obliques, external obliques, and rectus abdominis.
Transversus Abdominis - The Deepest Ab Muscle
The transverse abdominus muscle is the deepest of the 6 ab muscles. It can have a tremendous effect on body posture. You cannot touch this muscle from the outside. It wraps around the torso, creating an effect similar to a back support belt.
The Internal Oblique Muscles - Strong Effect on Posture
The internal obliques are a pair of ab muscles, residing on each side of the torso. They are the next deepest, after the transversus. Just like the transversus, they affect body posture tremendously, only slightly less, because of their more superficial position. The internal obliques are involved in, among other things, rotation and lateral flexion of the spine.
The external obliques are another pair of ab muscles that are located on either side of the torso. The external obliques are more superficial than the transversus and the internal obliques. Consequently the external obliques have less effect on body posture. Like the internal obliques, the external obliques are involved in, among other things, rotation and lateral flexion of the spine.
The rectus abdominus muscle is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles. It and the external obliques affect body posture, just not as much as the deeper internal obliques and transversus. The rectus abdominis muscle is responsible for the 6-pack ab look in very fit people.
Spinal Action of the Abs
Because muscles work in groups, we call the abdominal muscles spinal flexors. Their main job is to bend the spine forward, when contracting concentrically. The back muscles counterbalance the action of the abs, and are called spinal extensors. What this means is that when the abdominals shorten to flex the spine, the back muscles are put on a stretch, and vice versa.
My Ab Workout Theory
In building your abs there are many ideas on when, how often, how many reps and so on. To some degree they all will work, more for some people less for others. I am not a big fan in completing lot of reps with any muscle group including abs. After completing hundreds of reps three and four times a week, the results I was hoping for I did not achieve. I then decided to treat my abs like any other muscle group and working them two to three times a week with two days rest between workouts.
Lower Abs First
The key to a flat tummy and sexy waistline is to train the lower abs first. Why? Because the lower ab muscles are smaller, weaker and less developed than the upper ab muscles. If you train the upper ab muscles first, as most people do with crunches or sit-ups, then you will be too tired to train the lower ab muscles adequately. As a result, the upper ab muscles receive most of the training at the expense of the lower ab muscles. And that's why the "pooch" below the belly button is so hard to lose. One of the best exercises to do this is hanging leg raises/ If you lack arm strength, you can also do leg raises while lying on a bench or the floor.
The Abdominal crunch is the simplest exercise for the abdominal region and one of the most common abdominal exercises done in the gym. The primary muscles that are worked when doing crunches is the rectus abdominus. The rectus abdominus is what most people recogize as "the abs". The rectus abdominus are the center, "six-pack" abdominal muscles. The secondary muscles worked when performing crunches include the Internal and external obliques (the internal and external muscles on the sides of the stomach,) and the transverse abdominus (the layer of muscle underneath the visable abdominals).
Being the most common abdominal exercise also means the abdominal crunch it is the abdominal exercise that is most often done incorrectly. Proper form is not immediately obvious but with a few simple adjustments, the Crunch can be extremely effective. The basic technique is as follows:
- Lie down flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Hold your hands wherever you feel comfortable (on your chest or beside your head - just be sure you don't pull on your head).
- To increase the effectiveness of the crunch movement, push your chest and head.
- Do not lift up into a sit-up as this works the hip flexors and can strain your back. Instead try to crunch up towards the ceiling will increase the tension on the abs.
- Hold at the top of the movement for a second and squeeze hard.
- Repeat until failure.
Tip: At the top when you're squeezing, hold your body up and breathe in and out a few times, trying to relax every other muscle except the abs. This will intensify the contraction, increasing your results. It will also help to tighten the abdominal area.
Abdominal Crunch Machines
Crunches can also be perfomed using a abdominal crunch machine. Abdominal crunch machines may vary slightly (some have the legs raise up to the chest, others crunch you down, still others have both motions occur at the same time and roll your torso. The typical machine crunch should be performed as follows:
- Adjust seat height to position chest pad at mid-chest.
- Sit and position feet behind lower roller pads and grip handles lightly.
- While exhaling slowly contract abdominals downward in a crunch motion. Breath normally.
- Return weight with controlled movement to starting position.
Tip: to work the lower abs concentrate more on lifting with my feet rather than pulling down on the hand grips.
Lower Back Workout
For a strong core you need to also have a strong lower back. If you only develop the abdominal muscles and do not develop your lower back muscles this can lead to a muscle inbalance in the spinal structure. This leads to a constant tension on the muscles, ligaments, bones, and discs, making the back more prone to injury or reinjury.
To strenthen the lower back muscles, I prefer to use the 45 degree Hyperextension Roman Chair. To perform this exercise correctly:
- Position your feet on the platform with the roller pads against your calves.
- Adjust the pads to where rest high on your upper thighs.
- Lower slowly stop just before your body reaches a 90 degree angle.
- Rise back up until your back is straight in line with the rest of your torso.
- Do not go beyond this point and arch your back!
For the obliques I like to use the torso rotation machine. If you have never used this machine it is rather simple:
- Adjust seat position for desired range of motion.
- Adjust Chest support pad so the center of the pads align with top of chest.
- Grasp handles and rotate torso. Be sure knees are placed against support pads. Return slowly to starting position.
- Rotate seat position to train opposite side of torso.
Tip: for a slim midesction it is important not to use to much weight when working the obliques. Developing the obliques too much will give you a "blocky" look.
Core Strength Botom Line
By religiously working all parts of my stomach and lower back I have not only strengthened my core and eliminated my back problems but I have also built a great 6- pack of abs which I LOVE displaying at pool side or the beach!