Last year I wrote an article for Mind Body Green that has since been shared over 20,000 times. Basically I’m explaining why, despite being a Pilates and personal trainer, I never want a six-pack. I guess it struck a chord with some people.
While you may think that having a six-pack equals strong abs, it’s not necessarily the case.
A six-pack is formed by strengthening the outer layer of abdominals — the superficial rectus abdominis — through crunches and similar exercises. And while it’s great to have strong outer abs, it’s what’s underneath that really counts.
Side note: You can absolutely have strong outer abs without seeing a “six-pack”. Usually a healthy level of body fat will prevent us from seeing this definition. And if having a six-pack means giving up cheese, bread and wine… I will always choose the cheese, bread and wine!
Before you press play on today’s workout, let’s take a peek underneath the hood at why core-strength is the new sexy:
The six-pack is the least important muscle for spinal support.
Without getting too technical, the deep core muscles (transversus abdominis and erector spinae) are what matters most when it comes to strengthening and stabilizing our spine. Here’s why they need your attention…
- Improves posture — and reduces shrinking as we age
- Eases back and neck pain
- Stops the rounding-forward of shoulders
- Corrects pelvic and knee misalignments
- Is good for activating that nifty little pelvic floor muscle
- Helps with breathing and digestion, as correct postural alignment gives your organs room to do their thing!
A strong core can reduce the likelihood or severity of diastasis.
Diastasis is a separation of the outer abdominal muscles, which often happens during and after pregnancy.
While you shouldn’t be alarmed if you’ve experienced diastasis, you do want to get on top of it as soon as possible.* If ignored diastasis can lead to chronic low back pain, lumbar instability, digestive issues and hernias.
(*Note: please get medical clearance before beginning any new workout routine, especially post-pregnancy or surgery.)
So, how do you fix it? Crunches exacerbate diastasis and can further weaken an already weak core. To draw the outer abs back towards midline you need to use flexion-free core exercises, such as those that I’ll show you below.
There’s no point in building the house on a rocky foundation.
The real benefit to starting with crunch-free ab exercises is this: you can do hundreds of sit-ups every day, but without a strong foundation you won’t be getting any benefit.
Now let’s train!
10 Minute Crunch Free Ab Workout
Here Are The Moves
Seated Abdominal Breathing: Sit comfortably with your hands on the belly and your spine nice and straight. Inhale and let the belly expand towards your hands, exhale and engage your abdominals to pull the belly back in towards the spine. Repeat 10 – 12 repetitions.
All-Fours Abdominals: Start on hands and knees, with the wrists under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Keep the spine straight and still. Inhale to let the belly hang down, and exhale to engage your abdominals and pull the belly up towards your spine. Repeat 6-8 repetitions.
Kneeling Hovers: From the all-fours position, keep your abdominals engaged and hover the knees one inch away from the floor. Lower them down. Repeat for 6-10 repetitions.
Plank Step Backs: From the all-fours position, step one foot at a time back to plank position, without releasing your abdominal engagement. Repeat a total of 8-10 repetitions.
Single Leg Lifts: Start lying on your back, and gently press the low spine into the mat. Engage the abdominals before lifting one knee at a time to 90º (“tabletop position”). Return the feet to the mat, keeping the belly flat and the spine neutral. If the belly pops out (i.e. you lose core engagement) only lower the toes halfway. Repeat 8-10 repetitions.
Marching: Start with both knees in tabletop position. Tap one toe at a time towards the mat, before pulling it back up. Keep the belly flat and the spine neutral. Repeat 8-10 repetitions.
Frog Presses: Start lying on your back, with the knees lifted and the heels together, knees slightly open. Keep the low back against the floor and extend the legs away on a high 45º angle. Pull them back in. If the belly pops out (i.e. you lose core engagement) take the legs higher to the sky. Repeat 10-12 repetitions.
Now I’d Love To Hear From You
What kind of ab exercises are part of your workout routine? How did the moves from today’s video feel? Let me know by leaving a comment below.