A finely chiseled set of abdominal muscles are a surefire sign of a disciplined and dedicated lifter. Yet, many lifters often spend more time working on their chest and biceps. We’re going to explain why you should be spending more time working on your core and how to do it.
The word core includes more than just the “6 pack” muscles that are so coveted. Working your “core” includes working all of the muscles in the mid section of the body. We’re not going to include the erector spinae or spinal erectors of the lower back in our usage of the word core due to these being heavily involved in back training and their location on the posterior side of the body.
There are other parts that could be included in your core but for the purpose of this post we’re only going to include the following:
Transverse abdominis: these muscles are located beneath the anterior and lateral abdominal wall or beneath your rectus abdominis and obliques. It is the deepest muscle in your abdominals. The main function of the transverse abdominis is to stabilize the spine and postural support. It also pulls in your midsection to keep it from protruding and are instrumental in executing any movement. If you want complete development of your core, a flatter midsection, and more explosiveness you need to include some training for your transverse abdominis.
Rectus abdominis: these are the muscles most people think of when they are referring to abs. They are the muscles sitting on top of the transverse abdominis and form the “6 pack”. The main function of the rectus abdominis muscles is flexion of the trunk, like when you do a crunch.
Internal and external obliques: these muscles are located on the sides of the rectus abdominis muscles. Their main function are to help rotate the trunk and assist in breathing.
Serratus anterior: the serratus muscle is located above the obliques, just below the chest. It attaches to the 1st and 8th ribs. It’s function is to help move the arms in multiple directions.
- Your overall health will improve
- You will look better
- It will improve your confidence
- Pulls your stomach in and makes you look taller
- Keeps your body aligned, improving posture
- Prevents injuries
- Will help you lift more on other exercises
- Improved movement and quickness, especially when changing direction
- Improved athleticism
- It will help you generate force quicker
How Often Should You Work Your Core?
At the bare minimum you should work your core at least once a week. Many people think that from doing heavy squats and deadlifts they get plenty of core work. They do indirectly work your core but not to the extent of direct core training. You need to dedicate time to working your core just like you would your chest, back, shoulders, or legs.
There is a wide range of opinions on how often you should work your core. Some people believe that you can work it everyday, while others think that once or twice a week is sufficient. The muscles of your midsection do receive more blood flow than the rest of your musculature, so they can probably be worked more frequently. Having said that, they are still muscles.
Like all muscles, when you work your core, it needs time to heal and rest before it can get stronger. Depending on the volume and intensity of your core training, you could probably train it every other day or 3 days a week for most people.
This is based on the notion that after 48 hours, your muscles have typically fully recovered. If you are a beginner or have been neglecting your core, it might be best two start with two workouts a week and build up to three.
Should You Use Weights When Working The Core?
There are different schools of thought on using weight for core training. Many powerlifters use weight during their core training to add strength. Like most muscles, using weights will make the muscles of the core bigger. This could be a good thing if you are wanting the muscles of your rectus abdominis to “pop” or stick out.
It might not be a good idea when developing your obliques though. Most people want a tight thin midsection and when you work your obliques using weight, you could make them thicker. So weighted side bends might not be a good suggestion if you are trying to make your waist tighter.
One issue many people have is that their upper abdominals tend to be overdeveloped in comparison to the lower abdominals. It could be helpful to add weighted cable leg raises or medicine ball leg raises to try to build up the lower abs so they are more symmetrical to the upper abs. Everyone’s body is different, so this decision is purely individual. We suggest using some weighted exercises in your core training, even if it’s just every once in a while.
Exercises For Each Section Of Your Core
Transverse Abdominis: any exercise where you brace or suck in and compress your abdomen works the transverse abdominis. Exercises include: vacuums, planks, side planks, hollow holds, bird dogs, dragon flags, plank cable rows, pallof press, alternating plank rows/ renegade rows, corkscrews, swiss ball stir-the-pot, L-sits, windshield wipers, deadbugs, ab wheel rollouts, ab wheel walks, swiss ball planks, loaded carries, such as farmer’s walks, and A lot of the exercises that work the rectus abdominis also work the transverse abdominis to an extent, but not as directly as the ones we’ve mentioned above.
Rectus Abdominis: sit-ups, crunches, decline sit-ups, decline crunches, bicycle crunches, toe touches, leg raises, reverse crunches, flutter kicks, roman chair situps, hanging leg raises, toes to the bar, swiss ball crunches, medicine ball leg raises, hanging windshield wipers, swiss ball jackknives, ab wheel jackknives, medicine ball slams, mountain climbers, knee tucks, and cable crunches.
Obliques: windshield wipers, twisting crunches, pallof press, oblique crunches, rotating planks, cable woodchops, turkish get-ups, cross-body mountain climbers, russian twists, medicine ball rotational throws, spiderman pushups, side jackknives, hanging leg raise to oblique crunch, twisting cable crunches, break dancer, side plank with leg lift, twisting dow-rod crunches, and all the weighted carry variations.
Serratus Anterior: wall slides, scapular retractions, scapular pushups, dead stop push ups, horizontal band flyes, dumbbell pullovers, dumbbell rotational punches, shadow boxing, heavy punching bag work, prone shoulder row, scapular dips, and serratus cable crunches.
There are a lot more exercises to choose from, but this a good list to get you started.
In addition to performing the exercises listed above, you could also do pilates or yoga. They both work your core hard. Here’s some ab workouts for complete core development.
Beginner Core Workout
- Transverse Abdominis: Planks 3 sets holding the position as long as possible
- Rectus Abdominis: Reverse Crunches 3 sets
- Rectus Abdominis: Bicycle Crunches 3 sets
- Obliques: Cross-body Mountain Climbers 3 sets
- Serratus Anterior: Wall Slides 3 sets
Intermediate Core Workout
- Transverse Abdominis: Bird Dogs 3 sets alternating sides
- Rectus Abdominis: Roman Chair Situps 3 sets
- Rectus Abdominis: Cable Crunches 3 sets
- Obliques: Russian Twists 3 sets
- Serratus Anterior: Prone Shoulder Row 3 sets
Advanced Core Workout
- Transverse Abdominis: Swiss Ball Stir-the-pot 3 sets
- Rectus Abdominis: Hanging Leg Raises 3 sets
- Rectus Abdominis: Medicine Ball Throws 3 sets
- Obliques: Suitcase Carry 3 sets of 30 yards alternating sides
- Serratus Anterior: Scapular Dips
These are just some examples of workouts you could do. Feel free to make your own workouts, but when you do, keep several things in mind: try to hit each part of the core, change exercises each workout, and gradually increase the volume of your workouts.
If you can’t dedicate a lot of time to your core training, try to at least do one exercise. You can superset it with smaller muscle groups such as biceps, triceps, or calves.
If you you’re looking to get a six-pack and show off your abs this summer, you need to eat a clean diet and do cardio. No matter how much you train your abs/core you’re never going to see them if they are covered by a layer fat.