In almost every supplement advertisement that you see, what is the first thing thrust into the forefront? Abdominals. Even those who are new to working out, it seems that the first goal they have is to get the proverbial six pack. Athletes are not an exception to this as they think that having a ripped and shredded abdominal section means having a strong core. Crunches and leg raises are common abdominal exercises but they are not going to increase your core strength. Knowing which movements do what can help you in the right direction for your core goals.
As mentioned before, movements similar to crunches and leg raises are more for aesthetic purposes. They are for shaping and helping the rectus abdominus “pop”. However, you can do all of the ab exercises you want, but if you don’t have a low enough body fat percentage, you will not see anything. In order to get down to a low body fat percentage, one needs to maintain a strict diet. Keeping your carbohydrate intake low can help, but more importantly sugar intake needs to be at a minimum. Sugar metabolizes into fat very quickly if it utilized.
Improving and maintaining core strength requires another type of training. If you have ever seen power lifters, they usually don’t have a six pack, yet they will have ridiculous core strength with the constant loads of dead lifts and squats. In reality, the core is not just the abdominal muscles; it measured from the just beneath the pectorals to the hip flexors, both anterior and posterior. So if you are looking to build strength, your best bet are big exercises like squats, dead lifts, reverse hyper extensions and anything that requires stabilization.
Taking out a solid surface requires the core to activate and stabilize the body for the movement at hand. Take a push up for example. The feet are planted on a sturdy surface and the core is engaged to maintain a straight back. However, put your feet in a suspension trainer like TRX and you add a whole new level of core activation in order to keep your back straight and rigid.
The core has a lot of myths and it is easy to be confused when it comes to how to train. You have to remember, they are just like every other muscle. Training them twice to three times per week is plenty. They get worked in bigger movements so doing leg raises everyday is over kill. Eat clean and get some HIIT in if leaner look is what you are going for.