Posts Tagged ‘external obliques’

Health Watch: Sit-ups alone don’t work. Your core matters, too

January 4, 2012

Many people set out to make healthy changes for themselves, especially as part of their New Year’s resolution.  As a result, gymnasiums see a spike in memberships around New Year’s Day.  However, it may have been years since someone has exercised to any extent, let along set foot inside a gym.  Not only are these people out of shape, but they maybe rusty in technique, as well.  Attempting their first sit-up in years, for instance, they will find it much harder to do than when they last did it.  In fact, according to recent studies in biomechanics, what they learned about sit-ups and crunches years ago maybe flat out wrong.

If doing a bunch of sit-ups has not taken any inches off your waist, you may be doing it wrong. Before doing any abdominal exercises, you must work on core strength training first.Researchers have found out that the full motion of a sit-up puts an unhealthy strain on your back at its weakest point.  The back of the spine contains the most nerves, which is the very part that bends and strains during a sit-up.  Excessive flexing of the spine over time, doing just one type of sit-up or crunch repeatedly, could lead to disk herniation, resulting in back and leg pain, weakness, and tingling.  Trainers working closely with new clients have observed that the excessive flexing of the client’s spine is due to their focus on just one muscle group, the rectus abdominus, with little regard to other abdominal muscle groups such as the transverse abdominus or obliques (internal and external), or other “core” muscles.  People must understand that core strength training and abdominal exercises complement each other, and that the latter cannot be done instead of the former.  The core muscles that are involved include:

  • Rectus Abdominus
  • Erector Spinae
  • Multifidus
  • External Obliques
  • Internal Obliques
  • Transverse Abdominis (TVA)
  • Hip Flexors, which include the psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius
  • Gluteus medius and minimus
  • Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis
  • Hip adductors

Why must we focus on these core muscles?  The muscles of the core make it possible for us to stand upright and walk around by controlling movement, shift body weight, and move in any direction.  The goal of core stability is to maintain a solid foundation and transfer of energy from the center of the body out to the limbs, thereby protecting the back.  What are the exercises required to strengthen the core muscles?  The following exercise equipment, as demonstrated in these YouTube videos, work very well towards developing your core strength:

Consider these pieces of equipment tools that can assist you in your core strength development.  However, you can also develop your core strength without them, relying on your body weight alone.  Body weight exercises involve abdominal bracing, or the contraction of the abdominal muscles, and focus primarily on the transverse abdominis.  This, along with ten other equipment-less exercises, can be done to develop your core strength and include the following:

These exercises will ensure that you develop core strength in the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle of the core, so that you can maintain trunk stability and keep your waist tight.  It should not be surprising, then, that you would reap from the benefits of core conditioning when you work on abdominal conditioning concurrently.  Conversely, you maybe disappointed at the results of your abdominal conditioning should you do little core conditioning alongside it.

Abdominal conditioning focuses on two muscle groups: the rectus abdominus, often referred to as the “six-pack” , and the obliques (internal and external), which are located on the front and side of the abdomen.  These two muscle groups are on top of the aforementioned transverse abdominis, which is adjacent to your vital organs.  The abdominal muscles are special because they provide postural support, which contributes to a healthy back.  As long as you work on core conditioning, as well, you will be pleased with the results of your abdominal condition.  The number of abdominal exercises to choose from, however, raises another concern: what are the most effective abdominal exercises? The Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University answered that question by measuring the muscle activity of a number of test subjects as they performed 13 12 different ab exercises.  Using the traditional crunch as the baseline of muscle activity, this is what they discovered for the rectus abdominus:

Activity in Rectus Abdominus
Ranking Exercise Activity, mean %
1 Bicycle Maneuver 248
2 Captain’s Chair 212
3 Exercise Ball 139
4 Vertical Leg Crunch 129
5 Torso Track 127
6 Long Arm Crunch 119
7 Reverse Crunch 109
8 Crunch with Heel Push 107
9 Ab Roller 105
10 Hover 100
11 Traditional Crunch 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull 92
13 Ab Rocker 21

as well as for the obliques:

Activity in Obliques
Ranking Exercise Activity, mean %
1 Captain’s Chair 310
2 Bicycle Maneuver 290
3 Reverse Crunch 240
4 Hover 230
5 Vertical Leg Crunch 216
6 Exercise Ball 147
7 Torso Track 145
8 Crunch with Heel Push 126
9 Long Arm Crunch 118
10 Ab Roller 101
11 Traditional Crunch 100
12 Exercise Tubing Pull 77
13 Ab Rocker 74

What does this mean for your workout?  Think about your workout in three steps, in order:

  1. Stretching (as always)
  2. Core strength training (to maintain a solid foundation and transfer of energy from the center of the body out to the limbs)
  3. Abdominal exercises (to strengthen your abdominal muscles)

When you go to the gym or work out in your garage, do not start with abdominal exercises.  Always work on core strength training first so that your abdominal exercises thereafter produce the six-pack abs you have wanted in the first place.

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Francis Unson

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