Why You Don't Have a Shredded Core From the Ab Exercises You Do

"I do like 100 crunches every day, why the heck don't I have a 6-pack yet?!"

Fitness professionals hear this all the time. Someone in your inner circle comes to you and says they train abs every day and they still aren't getting the results they want. It’s time to stop the endless planks and sit-ups, or the new fancy ab circuit you saw on an insta-famous fitness "guru" profile, and start looking at your workout from another perspective.

Just because you focus more time and effort on a particular body part doesn’t mean it will produce the results you are looking for. While genetics is a key factor in how your body physique looks, your DNA is only part of the problem. The other problem lies with your ab workouts. Want better abs? Keep reading.

Developing a strong core, and the visibility of your core muscles, involves working a multitude of muscles, not just the muscles you see on your stomach in the mirror.

The reason you do 100 crunches is because it feels like you're working out your abs really good, right? You like the burn. And of course your abs are working, but what you don’t realize is how much better you could be challenging those muscles, getting more engagement, and inevitably seeing more results. Power moves like sprinting, plyometrics (jumping), and medicine ball throws can destroy your abs, all the while you'll develop more strength, explosive power, and carve out your abs. So, tell me again why you're doing 4 sets of a million bicycle crunches?

You might perform popular exercises you see online, and you will feel your abs work, but there’s a reason you’re not seeing the changes you want, because what you do, and how you do it, is very important. Diet plays a HUGE role when it comes to the visibility of your abs, but that doesn't account for everything. I would like to go over some common mistakes and provide you with solutions to set you up for a solid foundation of abdominal training.

1. Learn to Create Tension

When people think of contracting their abs, the rectus abdominus comes to mind, aka your 6 pack muscles. When the front section of your abs is contracted, there is usually a level of spinal flexion that comes with it (rounding your back), and a decrease in supporting muscle contraction. What we ant to accomplish is developing a rock solid core that involves not just the muscles you see in the mirror, but all of the supporting muscles as well. Think of a deadlift. You want to make sure your back and spine is protected during this exercise, especially the heavier you lift. Learning how to create tension throughout your entire core is critical in preventing injury, as well as getting stronger and being able to lift heavier.

How do you create more tension?

My suggestion is to practice bracing. It is a tricky skill to learn but it will help aid you in keeping your core tight in your compound movements. Bracing can be difficult to master because bracing too hard will your restrict breathing, and without steady breathing you will suffer in longer duration exercise.

Practice bracing with the Farmers Walk:

The Farmer’s walk teaches you both bracing and tension while breathing. Grab two dumbbells, stand tall, and walk around the gym for as long as your grip will allow. Simple, just make sure you practice the bracing and breathing throughout.

2. Contract your glutes

In every core exercise you perform, contract your glutes. Your glutes have specific functions that directly impact the action of your abs, such as hip extension, and pelvic posterior tilts. This posterior tilt involves a lot of ab activation, including the rectus abdominus and obliques.

How do you activate your glutes in core exercises?

Squeeze your glutes as hard as possible and notice the effect on your abs. More activation, right? This goes for tons of exercises, including the plank, bench press, deadlift, etc. If you want even more tension during a plank, squeeze your armpits by pressing your forearms into the floor. Wowza!

3. Include more mobility exercises

Your abs like mobility. More mobility leads to better stability, better stability leads to more muscle activation, and more muscle activation is a key component to better abs, more strength, and fewer injuries. An effective method of incorporating mobility into your workouts involves short bursts of core stability exercises to improve your range of motion through your hips and thoracic spine.

This method is effective both as a warmup or part of your working sets. See below for example.

Warm up version

Front plank: 3 reps of 10 second hold

Side plank: 3 reps of 10 second hold each side

Half kneeling hold: 3 reps of 10 second hold with elastic pulling you to the side, each side

Glute bridge: max contractions

Repeat for 2 sets each

Working set version

Your first chosen exercise

Front plank: 3 reps of 10 second hold

Complete this series as a super set before rest.

Your second chosen exercise

Rotational planks: 8 each side

Complete this series as a superset before rest.

Your third chosen exercise

Glute bridge leg swings: 8 each side

Complete this series as a superset before rest.

4. Breathe fluidly

If my previous 8 years of religiously practiced hot yoga has taught me anything, it is to BREATHE! The art of breathing is a hard skill to learn, but it will help you both in the gym and out, and enables you to be able to control your movements in a "restful" state. With that said, how you breathe during heavy back squats, sprints, or a yoga class is and should be very different. Learning how to tailor your breathing to different activities will ensure that your core is activating in the way it should be during that exercise.

Heavy weight training

Performing 1 RMs is much different that holding Warrior 2 posture in yoga (obviously). With heavy weight lifting you will benefit from taking a big inhale prior to starting the rep, and then holding your breath throughout the movement. You want want to hold your breath and squeeze as hard as possible to increase spinal stability and core pressure to prevent losing control of the weight.

For sprinting Breathing in a pulsed manner when your foot hits the ground will give you an instantaneous burst of stability and core activity, opposed to long, slow breathing or holding your breath like in heavy weight lifting.

For Yoga

You will benefit the most in yoga with long and deep inhales and exhales. This is used to decrease sympathetic drive and increase your "rest and relax" systems so your muscles don't resist the range of motion you are trying to achieve.

I LOVE training core, and I utilize these techniques into my own practice which has made a world of difference. I hope these tips were of benefit to you and you take what you learned and apply it into your practice!

For any further inquires, including personal training packages here at a local Vancouver gym, email me at powrhouseathletics@gmail.com

Chelsea Ellacott

'Commit to be Fit'