Working in a commercial gym I lay witness to some pretty horrific training practices. Some so terrifying that I have nightmares of pink dumbbell monsters tying me to an eliptical and forcing me to watch Sweating to the Oldies as everyone around me is doing crunches and 1lb bicep curls. Trust me, I have had this dream before and woke up in a cold sweat.
I know it is part of my job to educate and inform of the benefits and proper practices of exercise and strength training but there are many who are unwilling to trade in their beloved crunches for stability exercises such as planks. There are some that I have converted to the faith of core training but they have done so begrudgingly.
Now, keep in mind that I am not bashing the crunch. Just like any exercise there is a time and place as well as a right and wrong way to do it. The problem is that most people lack the internal hip mechanics to properly perform a crunch as well as neglect their nether region (glutes) to keep their hips in proper alignment. Most people sit all day in the flexed position and doing crunches
may will add insult to injury.
I’m also not saying that the plank is the end-all-be-all for core training either. Just like the crunch, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. If your ass is up in the air (insert joke here) then your hips are in that deleterious flexed position and you are neglecting the proper posture. When I have my clients plank, I make sure that they are squeezing the shit out of their glutes the whole time to maintain alignment and train glute function. Believe me, this is a whole different ball game.
Now that you know where I am coming from it is time to maybe shift your paradigm a little when it comes to core training.
The first thing that I cannot stress enough is that your 6-pack (or lack there of) is NOT your core. In actuality, there are two layers. A deep layer that attaches to your spine and pelvis as well as a superficial layer that is targeted by doing things like crunches. The deep core muscles which should be your focus are targeted by dynamic and stability exercises as they aid in spinal and pelvic stability. You mean crunches don’t aid in stability?! Hmm…
While we are on the subject of your superficial core and 6-pack muscles I cannot stress enough that you ALL have them. The problem is that they are buried beneath layers of processed foods, french fries and fried chicken. Under this premise doing gazillions of crunches is doing little to no help in digging those bad boys out.
Actually, when it comes to core training it is more beneficial to focus on performing 10-15 repetitions with perfect form than to do 100 bobbing-neck crunches on a stability ball (I see this daily and a little piece of me dies each time). Taking a minimalist approach and focusing on quality over quantity is much better than trying to impress your friends. Slow controlled movement of the proper muscles will give you the results you are looking for.
Learning how to plank and control stability is only the first piece of the puzzle. The rest is learning how to use that stability functionally during exercise and activity. The core needs to be dynamic and ready to handle whatever is thrown at it in any situation to prevent injury and keep you safe. With that in mind, do you think that just doing crunches or even just doing planks is enough to train your core?
The fact is that there is no single exercise that will train your core better than the next and you must integrate many different core exercises into your program. There are specific core exercises such as planks, side planks, anti-rotation exercises, cable raises, cable chops, leg raises, and yes even crunches (but only if your good at the other stuff).
What most people don’t realize though is that exercises such as lunges, squats, pushups and deadlifts train your core and posture as well. It takes a lot of core control and stability to perform these exercises and perform them well. One of my female clients hit a PR on the deadlift yesterday of 165lbs. Do you think she has a strong and functional core? You better f*$#ing believe it!
One of my personal favorite core exercises (besides deadlifting) is the Kettlebell Turkish Getup. It is one of the few exercises that trains the entire function of the core as well as hip and shoulder stability and control. You begin lying flat on your back with a challenging weight above head and sequentially move to a standing position with the weight remaining above head. Here is one of my 47 year old clients performing a getup as part of his metabolic circuit at the end of a session. Do you think he has a strong core? It is f*$#ing bulletproof!
A lot has changed in the world of core training in the past decade and even in the past 5 years. Heck, I think it might be safe to say that the science behind core training has even evolved greatly in the past year. One thing that has not changed though is the fact that crunches appear to be deleterious to your core if you don’t already have good core function and pelvic control. I wrote more about that here.
My final question to you is “Has your training evolved?” I mean, look at your technology: Iphones, laptops, Blueberries, Ipads, and Kindles. Look how much it has improved over the past 10 years. Why shouldn’t your core training?