Whatever your performance goals, core training should be a vital part of your workout programme. After all, as the name suggests, your core is your physical centre. The vast majority of physical tasks you undertake originate in your core, and from weightlifting to dancing and running, a strong core can be key to improving performance.
It’s important, however, to understand the difference between core training and abs training because the two are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Core training generally refers to working your deep abdominal muscles such as your transverse abdominis and multifidus muscles, while abs generally refer to superficial muscles such as your rectus abdominis (your six-pack muscles) and external obliques. With that cleared up, the question is...
Do you really need to do specific core training?
Whether you need to make time for core training depends on many things, such as how often you train, your lifestyle (meaning what is it that you do day-to-day), your training goals, and the type of training you do on a regular basis. If you do strength training or Pilates three times a week or more, for example, you’re already doing plenty of core training.
If, however, you have a cardio-based training routine with no specific core exercises, you should consider incorporating some into your programme. Not only does this mean you could perform better, it could make you less prone to injuries and chronic issues such as lower-back pain.
How to create your core (or abs) training plan
1. Understand whether you want to actually train your core, or just work on your six-pack.
2. Pick exercises that are optimal for the muscles you’re trying to strengthen (see my recommendations below).
Core and abs exercise tips
Generally speaking, when training your core muscles you’re utilising isometric (a muscular action in which tension is developed without contraction of the muscles) exercises, also called holding movements e.g. plank.
When training your abs you should utilise concentric (a type of muscle activation that causes tension on your muscle as it shortens) exercises and eccentric (the motion of an active muscle while it is lengthening under load) exercises under a controlled tempo.
The best abs and core exercises
Of course, there are a whole host of exercises to choose from, but in my experience these are the best movements for targeting specific core and abdominal muscles (and some that target both):
Upper abs: Decline crunch
Lower abs: Hanging leg raises
External obliques: Rotational 45° side bend
Deep core: High plank
Internal obliques: Side plank
Hybrid (core and abs): Hollow rock
Hybrid (core and abs): Side plank with rotation
A hugely accomplished and knowledgeable trainer, Kyle Poleon specialises in combining core, bodyweight and resistance training to build long-lasting strength. Kyle has spent the last eight years as the highest performing trainer at the world renowned KX Gym where he was mentored by some of the leading names in the fitness world and is co-founder of Train With ID, which creates bespoke traning programmes based on the latest scientific evidence.