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On one hand, some individuals will say that working the abdominals is beneficial with exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, etc. On the other hand, some individuals will tell you big compounds lifts (deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press and squats) will activate the core area so you do not need to perform direct abdominal work. Here we will break down the importance of both as well as which is more beneficial. A Crux Fitness personal trainer in Richmond Gym and Cloverdale Gym can explain the difference to you.

In my experience, unless you are an advanced lifter, or even a power-lifter, the abdominals will not activate to its full potential unless you are performing direct abdominal work. Let’s take a beginner lifter for an example performing a deadlift.

He or she will generally focus on activating the hips, glutes and grip in order to lift the weight up. To a beginner lifter, there are too many factors going on for them to really activate the core area. Their main concern is to pick the weight up with proper form and to finish the repetitions assigned. Therefore, additional core work may be required with a beginner or even an intermediate lifter. A Crux gym personal trainer in Richmond and Cloverdale can assign core work to you.

Now let’s take an advanced lifter performing the deadlift. The load they are lifting is generally very heavy. In order to pick up the weight with proper form, the trunk area must stay stiff so that the spine remains neutral. For this to happen, the core area must activate for the weight to come off the ground with the spine straight. Otherwise if the core is not engaged, the weight will pull the upper body down, causing the shoulder to round and an injury may occur. As lifters gain experienced and lift heavier, it is crucial that they be taught to engage the core in order to prevent injury.

So how do you engage the core? Most people, or even trainers, think that sucking in the abdominals and making it stiff during a lift is activating the core. Perhaps the “stiff” part is correct. When we activate the core during a big lift, we are actually pushing the abdominals outwards. Yes, this may look unattractive but that is not what we are looking for during big lifts – we are looking for functionality. When we push the abdominals out, we are creating what is known as I.A.P. – intra-abdominal pressure.

Intra, which means within. Building the pressure within the trunk and abdominal creates the tension required for the lift. This is where a lifting belt comes in for big lifts. During the lift you would push the abdominals out against the belt, the belt stays stiff and pushes back against you giving you even more tension in the body. A lifting belt is recommended for very heavy lifts to prevent injuries.

What I recommend for beginner lifters is practice big, compound lifts to gain experience and progress in weight when appropriate. At the same time, work on basic abdominal work in order to build the appropriate strength in the midsection. Once basic abdominal strength is developed progress to advanced core exercises to develop core strength. So what’s the difference between abdominal exercises and core exercises? There is a big difference. In my opinion, exercises that require you to lie on your back is generally an abdominal exercise whereas any exercises that you are on your elbows, hands or feet is a core exercise. Core exercises will develop stability, balance, anti-flexion, anti-flexion, anti-rotation as well as abdominal strength. A personal trainer in Richmond can give you additional recommendations for core work.

To summarize the toss-up between full-body lifts and direct core work, the benefits for each depends on the experience level of the lifter. If you are a beginner lifter, basic abdominal work is required for heavier lifts. Begin with basic crunches and leg raises, then progress to core exercises working on midsection. Tension in the trunk translates directly to heavy compound lifts. The lifter may progress to heavier lifts once he/she is able to activate the core area along with lifting experience.

Remember, activating the core area is pushing the abdominals out – not in.

Until next time,

Marco – Personal Trainer, Kinesiologist at Crux Fitness