Telling Fact from Fiction on Core Training

  • “I have no interest in six-pack abs,” said no gym-junkie ever. A washboard stomach is part of pretty much anyone’s dream body, whether they’re male or female.

    On top of looking great in summer, a tight core has also been accredited with many other benefits, like better posture and better support for other functional movements. But how much of what you hear about core training is actually true? Below, we’ll look at some of the commonly-touted beliefs about abs and expose them as either fact or fiction.

    Fact or fiction: core stability helps with posture and back pain.

    For years a theory persisted that building stability of the core (broadly defined as the muscles of the torso, but also including those muscles that extend to the upper legs and the lower back) would improve the stabilization of the spine, improve one’s posture, and also prevent, or even cure, back pain. Since then, various studies have shown that this notion of “core stability” is not medically necessary for a healthy posture.

    For example, a 2010 study concluded that weak abdominal muscles will not lead to back pain, that core stability exercises are no better than any other exercises at preventing injury, and that continuous tensing of the trunk muscles (during daily activities or while playing sports) could actually lead to spinal damage. This is not to say that core training is pointless; instead, core training should be viewed as another form of strength building and not as a magic medical solution to postural or back problems.

    Fact or fiction: abs need minimal recovery time.

    This one is fact. Unlike other muscle groups, which require at least 48 hours of recovery time between training sessions, abs are faster to recover. In theory you can therefore work your core 4-5 times in a single week without it getting overworked.

    Fact or fiction: you can spot-reduce abdominal fat.

    For a lot of people, that extra layer of fat around the belly area is the most stubborn. But while it’s tempting to think that doing a thousand crunches will burn the fat away from the midsection area, it simply doesn’t work that way. This is because your body doesn’t burn fat for fuel by taking it from just one body part; it takes it from all over the body.

    While spot-targeting belly fat with exercises may not technically be possible, there are still things you can do. Firstly, doing ab or core strength exercises will develop the muscle in that area, making it tighter and more defined. In order to get rid of the fat that’s covering the muscle, however, you need to drop the body fat percentage of your whole body. Try incorporating fat-burning activities like HIIT into your workouts — as well as following a healthy diet — in order to shed the fat.

    Fact or fiction: planks are better than crunches.

    Crunches and planks both work the core area in different ways and put the focus on different muscles, meaning both can be beneficial. But if it comes to stacking up the benefits of each side by side, planks do win out. This is because planks engage the legs, glutes and deltoids, as well as the core, and involve more overall muscle activity.

    If you find planks too tedious, swap them out for push-ups: they use a plank position with the added benefit of working the shoulders and arms much more.

    Fact or fiction: it’s easier for men to get a six-pack.

    Unfortunately for women, this is generally true. Men see results quicker because their bodies don’t require as much body fat to function correctly, while women naturally have a higher body fat percentage. This doesn’t mean that women can’t or won’t achieve visible abs — much of it just comes down to their natural physique and how hard they work to get their body fat percentage down.