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Busting the 6-Pack Myth

Written by Bodyneed on April 19th, 2015.      0 comments

Core stability, that’s all about doing sit-ups isn’t it?  I’m an athlete so why do I need to do that kind of exercise? Can’t I just swim, bike or run?
Well, yes, you could ‘just’ focus on your discipline but you’ll likely suffer for it.
95% of injuries suffered by endurance athletes are due to poor CORE STABILITY and POOR TECHNIQUE (often a by-product of poor core stability). Everything from achilles problems to runner’s knee, ITB issues, lower back pain, shin splints, calf tears, hip pain and sciatica. That’s 95% of the possible injuries you can get from swimming, cycling or running which makes core stability so crucial to injury prevention.
A stable core also supports your spine and body in everyday activities – in everything from running to picking up your kids, to carrying your luggage and even sitting at your desk all day!
So what exactly is ‘core stability’?

“Stability” is the ability to remain stable or constant despite forces that would normally disrupt your neutral position. Core stability is all about power and control. A properly conditioned core helps control the power that comes from your trunk. It positions and moves your trunk and spine correctly (it keeps it in neutral) despite the force of your running, swimming or biking actions. This correct positioning also allows for smoother, more effective and coordinated movement of the limbs.
It’s all about posture and position.
The ability to maintain good posture when running, cycling or swimming
helps protect the spine and body from extreme ranges of movement
and from excessive or abnormal forces acting on the body.

3 Biggest Myths of Core Strength

There is so much misinformation around core stability. Many people believe that doing hundreds of crunches will build a stable core – but it’s actually much more complex than that – and also not as hard! 
Myth 1 - Having a six pack means you have good core stability
Stability is more complex than just one part of our abs (the six pack). Our bodies are three-dimensional and therefore need a 3D approach to strength. You need total body conditioning as all the muscles in your body work together with your core to keep you stable.
Myth 2 – Going hard at the gym is the best way to achieve a strong core
When building a strong core you need to access your deeper stabilizing muscles and this requires a slow controlled manner. Going hard will mean you recruit the wrong muscles.
Myth 3 – those muscly gym types must have strong cores right?
As above with core stability we are talking about smaller, stabilizing muscles – not the big obvious muscles you see at the gym – so it’s not a given that the big muscly guy is stable at all!
Ok, so what is my core and how do I condition it?
Our innermost core consists of 4 main muscles. There are more muscles involved but too many to list here:
The Transverse Abdominus (inner stomach muscle that wraps around our middle)
The Diaphragm (at the top
The Pelvic Floor (at the bottom)
The Multifidus (against your lumbar spine) 
core muscles1-829  

These muscles are not big movers like your hamstrings; instead they work like a vacuum, drawing together to create a stable core that supports your spine and trunk. There are lots of exercises you can do to strengthen these – but static and dynamic floor workouts are a great place to start.
So all I need to do is strengthen this and I’m good to go?
Actually – this is just your start point. As we looked at in Myth 1, our bodies are three-dimensional which means we need to take a whole body approach to core conditioning.
We need to look at the bigger global muscles that work in harmony with your core to give you stablity in your stride, efficiency in your swim and power on your bike.
All these muscles work together in coordinated effort to keep you stable, so the more balanced they are the better.
This diagram shows some of the ways our muscles work together when running: 

Latissimus Dorsi works together with the opposite glute to help you power off in your stride.

The Transverse Abdominus holds your pelvis stay stable while your Obliques work with the opposite inner thigh to stop hip drop in your stride and shearing through your lower back.

And the Glute Medius (hip abductors) work to stop the knee drifting in or out and save our knees from wear and tear.
core muscles-659  

When we strengthen our body for movement it makes sense that we work out following the same patterns we would use for these movements.
A balanced work-out will work your front, side and back for strength and flexibility and that’s where more functional types of exercise like pilates and any type of training that is not machine based – like squats, lunges and free weights – comes in.
It’s crucial for athletes in any field to spend time focusing on strengthening their core.  Pilates classes are a great addition to any training routine, particularly during the off season. Or you can try some of the following exercises at home.


Do all or pick and choose - just remember to choose at least 1 exercise from each part to ensure a balanced workout.
Hot Tip - Inhale to prepare and Exhale with exertion - keeps your core engaged properly and GO SLOW!

Part 1 - Abdominals 
  Curl Ups-91 oblique prep-489  
  Curl Ups - draw tummy into spine, inhale 1st then exhale curl up; 10x  Oblique Prep - Inhale 1st & exhale to curl up to opp knee; 5x each side   
single leg stretch 1-674 single leg stretch 2-191
Single Leg Stretch

Start with both feet down; roll your lower back into the mat then release off a bit so you can just feel the mat; draw tummy into spine; inhale 1st then exhale to lift knee, inhale and exhale to extend foot out 45 degrees; inhale back and repeat 8 x each side.

NB: Make sure your stomach is drawn in and not popping out; keep breathing! 
dead bugs 1-922 dead bugs 2-435
Dead Bugs

Start with both feet down; roll lower back gently into the mat; inhale 1st, ex- hale lift 1 leg at a time up to ‘table top’; do this first with arms down; Inhale 1st then exhale to stretch 1 leg out to 45 degrees, inhale it back and exhale the other leg out; repeat 10 x

NB: Keep your tummy drawn in flat and keep breathing; any back pain STOP 

Part 2 - Glutes/Buttocks

Help extend your leg behind during push off - gives you more power and energy!
  bridge bridge 1  

Exhale to curl your hips up; squeeze buttocks; inhale to pause at top; ex- hale to slowly curl your spine back down; repeat 8x 
Bridge with leg lift

As with the Bridge exhale to lift up into your bridge; pause at the top and squeeze buttocks; engage down through your arms into the mat, ex- hale to lift one leg up, inhale it back down, exhale other leg up - 4-6x
NB: Keep hips stable no dipping side to side; push through heels 
Part 3 - Back

Upper back to mid back to help you stay upright - great for running posture
Half Swan glute squeeze starfish
Half Swan
Start with your nose touching the mat, draw tummy in, inhale & exhale to lift head, neck upper back; repeat 5x 
Glute Squeeze
Head on hands, draw tummy in, in- hale 1st then exhale to squeeze but- tocks and lift feet up off the floor, inhale down; repeat 5x 
Arms to side, tummy tucked in, but- tocks squeezed gently; inhale 1st & exhale to lift head, shoulders and upper back, inhale down; repeat 5x 

Part 4 - Lateral Hips and Obliques

Glute medius keeps your knees straight and obliques help keep your hips stable 
  clams - glute medius clams II  
Clams - glute medius
Lying on your side, heels in line with butt; hips stacked; tummy in; squeeze heels together and float top knee up and down - 10x 
Clams II - glute medius
This time as you open the ’clam’ straighten your leg out and back then close the ’clam’ repeat - 10x 
  side plank side plank 1  
  Side Plank
Start in same position as clam; hips stacked, tummy in, forearm under shoulder; inhale 1st then exhale to push hips straight up; inhale down and repeat 10 x

NB: watch your shoulder; imagine you have a squeezy ball in your armpit and squeeze to keep shoulder in a safe position; if your neck hurts look at floor or stop and ask advice 
Part 5 - Stability

Standing and kneeling exercises challenge us toward functional running stability 
single leg squats supermans hip folds
Single Leg Squats - hips
Keep your weight over your heel and far back as poss; bend knee into mini squat , push up & squeeze buttocks; use wall to help balance, repeat 10x both sides 
Superman's - full body
Start on hands and knees; shoulders down; tummy into spine; slowly slide your foot behind, squeeze buttock and lift; make sure your hips stay level; now left your arm forward too; pause and breathe; repeat other side 5 x each 
Hip Folds - full leg stability
Stand on one foot weight into heel; inhale 1st and exhale to fold forward at your hips; keep your lower back flat; tummy drawn in; slight bend at your knee; hold for 2 breaths; repeat other side 4x 

NB: These are generic exercises to get you started and may not be suitable or applicable to everyone.  Go slowly and be easy on yourself – if you feel pain STOP and get advice, pain will mean you are doing the exercise incorrectly. 
For the best possible start you should see a physio (a running specific physio who can write you a home programme so you would want a decent 60 minute appointment plus follow up on the programme).  If you have any existing injuries DO NOT do this programme until you have seen a physiotherapist for clearance.  And if you have any questions don’t hesitate to call us for a chat – that’s what we are here for and we don’t charge for a telephone call!

So that’s it – the secret to a good strong, stable endurance athlete’s body – and in fact a strong, stable and injury free body in general – regardless of what you are up 


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