What area is THE most talked about inside and outside the gym?

Answer: The core!

Whether it's in a class, personal training session, at the office or a family function, the question I get asked most is always "how can I work my abs?"

If I had an easy answer for abs that was fast and effective, I could retire! Unfortunately, it's not so simple because there are so many variables involved -- diet, exercise, sleep and stress to name a few. I also have to burst bubbles when I remind people that you can't spot reduce and that doing more sit-ups will not give you flat abs.

So what IS the answer?

In recent years, abs and core have almost become synonymous. The core, however, is actually a group of muscles that provide stability and support to the body. The abdominals play a very important role with the core, but they don't do it alone. Here's a summary of the muscles involved.

The CORE summary:

  • Rectus abdominis – the more common superficial layer most people equate with abs that runs from the ribs to the pelvis and is responsible for trunk flexion (bending forward) and provide stability to the spine and pelvis in coordination with other core muscles
  • Internal and external obliques – run on an angle from the pelvis to the spine and support rotation or twisting movement
  • Transverse abdominis – located under the obliques and wraps around the spine providing overall protection and stabilization; this can also give you that more narrow appearance to your waist
  • Erector spinae- This group of three muscles runs along your neck to your lower back.
  • Mutlifidus –(this is my favourite one to say!) located under the erector spinae along the vertebral column; they extend and rotate the spine
  • Gluteus maximus, medius and minimus – muscles located on your buttock, providing support and stabilize hips and spine
  • Pelvic floor muscles – muscles that run from front to back along the pelvis and provide support for the organs and pelvis

Other muscles related to the core include hip flexors, hip adductors and scapular stabilizers.

Why highlight all of these? When people realize just how many different muscles are involved, it's easier to convince them that the answer is to focus on variety and balance with core exercises versus simply doing more crunches!

CORE Tips:

Now that you know exactly what you're dealing with, here are three key tips to help you make sure your time spent on core is efficient and effective.

1. Variety

  • include exercises that challenge a variety of core muscles – for example, crunches + planks + lateral raises on a ball
  • change your routine regularly
  • START with abs for a change!

2. Work core just like any other muscle group

  • slow and controlled
  • add challenge – by angles, levers, resistance options, stability options – for example, start with planks on the forearms, then move to a Bosu, then add a wide knee draw
  • focus on quality vs. quantity

3. Work on the fitness trinity -- cardio, muscle, diet

Getting that lean look around your waistline truly requires a balance focusing on all three of these areas. Cardio will help you burn calories, but resistance training will help you to burn MORE calories and diet – well, that's the tough one. Many of us have great abs hiding under layers that we'd love to shed!

Remember that working on core will help you shape your waistline, but more importantly you will strengthen your posture, help avoid injury and improve your performance for sports, activities you enjoy and everyday life.

Great balanced combination:

Roll backs -- two sets of eight slow

Over a Bosu or Bender ball. Press belly into the ball and unfold back into a V-sit position about at 2:00 (using a clock reference); roll up and back between 2:00-1:00 slowly with control maintaining the connection with the belly on the ball

Planks with knee draw – 2-3 sets holding or 5-10 each leg

Facing the floor, place hands or elbows under the shoulders and toes curled under on the floor; lift hips and belly into a plank position (or from the knee to start) and hold for 10-30 sec.; to add challenge, draw knee outside toward the same elbow alternating legs

Side-lying torso raises – 2 sets of 5-10 each side

Place a Bender Ball (you can use a child's ball, but be careful!) under one hip sitting "side-saddle"; extend the top leg our and then lay the torso over the ball keeping the hips and shoulders stacked or vertical; lift and lower the torso focusing on shortening the distance from your ribs to your hips.

For more information on core, fitness and home workouts, visit Libby at www.libbynorris.com  

Let fitness help you enjoy the things you want to do after you finish the things you have to do!