The title says it all, “Abs Equal Performance.” Everyone wants them, everyone likes them, but most people cannot get them.
Whether your abdominals are hidden or visible, they lead to improved performance in every facet of life.
As an athlete, having a well-developed core increases your performance capabilities through improved agility, coordination, power and strength.
As an average fitness enthusiast, having well-sculpted abs will improve your workouts, daily life, sex appeal, confidence level and health. I think an early conclusion is, no matter who you are, abs can increase performance in every facet of your life.
Studies have linked abdominals to numerous benefits, including the following:
Lower- Back- Pain Prevention /Treatment - having a core that is strong and stable is essential to lower back health. The article The Secret to a Healthy Back & Sexy Six Pack explains that “incorporating a core workout routine that safely balances flexion and extension of the spine, functional movements, total body complex movements...” is essential to maintaining a healthy lower back.
Limits the Amount of Belly Fat - Belly fat (also known as visceral fat or omentum fat) leads to vast health complications, even more than other fats. The article All Fat Created Equal explains the dangers of belly fat. “Belly fat lies deep within our abdomens surrounding the internal organs... visceral fat may serve as a feeding tube into vital internal organs, thus leading to even greater health complications.” Luckily, performing a workout routine centered around complex movements, like farmers walking, dumbbell front squats, functional clean to press, back squats, and many others (check out functionalmusclefitness.com “exercise-of-the-week” to see videos of these exercises) can aid in proper core development while limiting the amount of belly fat. Fat reduction also leads to increased performance by allowing greater movement patterns through larger Range of Motions, even at higher velocities.
Although few will argue over the importance of having a well-developed core, there are a few disagreements on how to achieve these results. One might ask, what is the most efficient way to develop a core for performance? Second, is it necessary to have a six-pack that is visible? Both are vitally important questions to ask and understand before one undergoes a fitness program to achieve proper core development.
Abdominals have shown to be greatest served through a well-rounded core program, engaging total body movements (strength, power, and endurance), flexion followed by extension of the spine, all three musculature actions and flexibility training.
First, we need to look at total body movements. Some may ask, if we are looking to develop our core, why would we do full body and not simply focus on our abdominal musculature? There are two main reasons why the answer to that question is “absolutely not!” First, when you perform a biomechanical analysis of the body during any and all movements throughout your life, you are performing total body movements requiring strength, power and stability. The core is the center of all movements; it starts there and ends there. Due to the nature of real-life movements, you must be able to work through these patterns with efficiency and performance, whether in sports or everyday living. The goal of total body movements is to re-create functional movement patterns. Second, total body movements have a higher degree of caloric expenditure. They activate more musculature at once, thus requiring higher “METS” (energy cost of an activity) levels than single musculature movements. Therefore, total body movements raise your metabolic rate. This is important because it leads to greater levels of fat loss, which leads to better health and living. Without these exercises, it would be hard to show your abdominals.
Proper core development utilizes flexion and extension of the spine. Recently, fitness professionals and medical professionals have been arguing whether or not to suggest performing flexion and extension movements. Examples would be basic crunches, sit-ups, hyper-extension on machines at the gym, etc. These movements create greater pressure throughout the discs of the spine. Although I concur with this thesis, we should not eliminate flexion and extension movements altogether. Let’s look again at the biomechanical analysis of movements we perform in life, do we perform flexion and extension of the spine? Absolutely, so we should do them in training. However, with that said, there are guidelines when performing flexion and extension movements that can help prevent increased disc pressure and lower back injury. In the article Secret to a Healthy Low back & Sexy Six Pack - Part I, it goes over the importance of following back flexion with extension. This article touches on the importance of the lordosis position as well. “The lordosis position provides optimal pressure along each disc of the spine. Therefore, there will be minimal disc herniation and/or bulging discs.” The lordosis position has your back in a natural spinal extension position. While performing core exercises, concentrate on those that keep your back in this position more often than not. Follow any possible back flexion exercises, whether there is minimal flexion or not, with back extension exercises soon thereafter. For example, performing Seal Sit Ups followed by Superman’s. Seal Sit Ups, when executed correctly, put your back in minimal back flexion. Follow them with Superman’s, which place your spine in extension (to see examples of these exercises visit functionalmusclefitness.com “exercise of the week”).
Understanding the three muscular contractions is critical to exercising correctly. Concentric is the motion of pushing a force or weight (ex: stand up portion of a back squat). Eccentric is the action of decelerating the weight or slowing a force that is pushing against you (ex: a squat down portion of a back squat). Isometric is when you are neither pushing nor decelerating, but rather holding a position (ex: pausing in a parallel squat position and not moving up or down). Developing a base understanding of each of the three muscular actions, you become aware of how to utilize them during each workout. It is important to engage in each musculature action. Neglecting one or more of the three will lead to muscular imbalances and performance degradation.
Flexibility training involves both dynamic and static flexibility. Dynamic flexibility is movement, static is non-movement (i.e. holding the stretch). We advocate both. Performing large Range of Motions (ROM) during exercises, with externally imposed demands (weights), is critical to increasing dynamic flexibility. This leads to musculature balance, allowing for greater core strength, stability, and power, which increases performance. Static flexibility focuses on the musculature itself. Yoga is a common practice of static stretching that often incorporates isometric strength and balance. Both forms of flexibility training are equally important. However, when to do perform them is just as important. Perform dynamic stretching pre-exercise and static stretching post-exercise. Another form of flexibility training that has become increasingly more popular, and for a good reason, is Self Myo-fascial Release Therapy (SMR), or foam rolling. Foam rolling involves movement along specific musculature, breaking up any knots in your soft tissue (fascia tissue). The article Secretes to a Healthy Low back & Sexy Six Pack - Part II goes over techniques of SMR Therapy. “The technique involved with SMR is as follows; roll along the muscle until you find a spot that is painful, of absolute tenderness, and sitting on that spot for 20-30 seconds until some of the pain has subsided.” Check it out for further details.
Abdominals are a serious topic, one that is often not fully understood. Developing a well-rounded core is a discipline that can change one’s life. As drastic as that just sounded, it’s true. There are numerous health benefits, many were not mentioned in this article, with maybe the most important benefit being treatment and prevention of lower back pain. As for athletes, abdominals have been shown to increase athletic prowess through increased transverse (rotational) power and reactive agility. And if that does not sell you, then this might, having a six-pack or a lean muscular stomach has been shown to increase your sex appeal to the opposite sex. Enough said.