Our core, which we can generally define as any part of our body that is not a limb or our head, is our foundation and more functionally important than we often give it credit for.
While I doubt there is a person on this planet who doesn't want their core to look chiseled and pristine, we often don't put as much value on how important that type of "muscle tone" is in terms of function.
While a six pack looks great, what it and other accompanying core muscles can do for us (even under layers of fat), is essential to our overall health for three major reasons:
Back Pain No More
If you take one thing away from this article, please let it be this: the cost of back pain is too high to not put time in the gym focusing on developing your core.
Is it worth it to be laid up in bed paying the price of time off from your job and of physical pain because of a back injury OR to pay the price of one hour of sweat and physically demanding work?
Sadly, that very scenario is not far fetched either. According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and will affect 80% of the American population at some point in their lives.
It is simply a choice.
A choice to take your quality of life, health, and ultimately, your happiness, into your own hands.
Move like an Athlete
One attribute a good athlete must possess, is coordination and control of their body.
When a baseball or softball outfielder throws a run in, a sprinter explodes off the blocks, a soccer player kicks a goal, a basketball player shoots a 3, etc; the core is responsible for absorbing the force that is transmitted by the athlete's limbs.
If their core is weak, the velocity of the movement is decreased and the likelihood of injury goes up.
This same principle holds true for every day athletes as well. When getting your workout of the day in, if your core is weak your lifts and movements will be weak thereby increasing your chance of injury.
The reason there are mirrors in the gym? So you can watch your form and make sure you're doing the movement correctly.
The reason we have an intricate network of core musculature? So you can feel and ground your form.
Use both sight and feel to keep your technique on point for your next workout.
Be a Boss in the gym
Adding on to the last point, your core should constantly be ON with any movement in the gym.
Imagine if I were to come up in punch you in the stomach before you were to lift something, you would brace for the impact right? Well, that same "bracing" effect should be recruited at all times when you are training.
This is especially true when lifting heavier weights (anything greater than 70% of your 1RM or RPE).
A tip I remind my athletes and clients of continually is that, in order to maintain good technique, your form should remain the same from start to finish.
Furthermore, if your core isn't strong, you should not be attempting anything heavy for your own safety and longevity. Don't be one of those horror stories that tries to do too much too soon.
Build your core first, everything else second.
To answer the poll question, our superficial abs (six pack) that we see is our Rectus Abdominis muscle, which looks like eight separate muscles, but is in fact one unit linked by fascia.
Thus, you cannot just target the bottom two "abs" in the Rectus Abdominis, it all works together. Also, we often don't see those "lower abs" because our subcutaneous fat gathers at the bottom first, and is better trimmed off through dietary measures.
Advanced Core Routine
There are multiple resources on this site to help you accomplish building your foundation, specifically check out the Core section under Training.
Below is a video and advanced core routine for when you are ready to step up your game a tad!
The Bottom Line
Like the foundation of a house is paramount to a structurally stable building, our core is equally as essential to develop and maintain before moving on to other movements in the gym.
If you are one of many Americans who suffers with back pain, put down the pill bottle, and go to a gym. It is possible for the musculature around your spine to be supportive enough to where your spine maintains proper curvature.
An exceptional source for healing your back pain is Dr. Stuart McGill, author of the Back Mechanic.* It is a book that I have used myself for back pain, and would recommend to anyone looking to do the same!
Also, be sure to look into the hundreds of free workouts featured on this site, all of which offer proper warm ups, mobility exercises, and workouts of varying intensity and structure.
*I have no stake in the promotion of this book.
(n.d.). Retrieved January 03, 2018, from https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics
Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
The human body is a complex and incredible machine. From our brain to our bones, it is amazing how our body system work synergistically together so that we can function on a daily basis.
Paying attention to how we feel is important, but also knowing why and when we should do certain things within our normal day is equally important to finding and keeping your daily awesomeness on high day after day.
Since the beginning of our lives, the human body has loved routine. Ask any parent and they will tell you babies tend to be much better natured when on a schedule, or any elite athlete and why they stick to meticulous sleeping and eating patterns.
I know we’ve all been there with the dialogue of excuses we will tell ourselves: “I don’t feel like hitting the gym today”, “I’m not feeling energized enough for this workout”, “Why have I been sore for 3 days?”, and so on.
Well, there are a lot of things we can do to help make a healthy lifestyle something enjoyable instead of an obligation, and in result, transform our mind and body into unstoppable machines!
Find Your Chronotype
Take the following mini quiz written by Amy Ashmore of the American Council on Exercise. Disclaimer: I have no stake in the promotion of this quiz.
This will help you recognize your chronotype, or natural sleep-wake cycle and how understanding this can allow you to establish an effective routine that maximizes your training.
Add your scores together to get your total and compare your score with the table below to identify your chronotype. Your chronotype suggests your best time of day to train where overall fitness and pleasure are your primary goals.
This may have just affirmed something you already knew or suspected about yourself, as in yeah this is for sure why I need that morning cup of coffee, or why you get a boost of energy in the evening time that makes you feel like you could take on the world.
Establish a set workout time
This is good for everyone to do, but especially if you are an athlete and wanting to maximize your training time.
Here's why: with repetition our muscles can actually start to anticipate an upcoming workout based on the time of day. Within each of your 600 muscles, there is a little biological clock, each of which are paying close attention to your eating and sleeping patterns.
When they get accustomed to a time of day for training, they will start to make little molecular adjustments in anticipation for training, kind of like your own miniature muscular NASCAR crew, thereby enhancing your performance during the workout. Pretty cool!
Find How to Make Your Routine Stick
Everyone is different, so what works for someone else may not work for you. Don’t force a workout in the morning if it doesn't fit your chronotype. Try changing it up and working out after work instead, or fitting it in on your lunch break.
The same holds true for the opposite, maybe your optimal time is in the morning and it’s time to stop hitting snooze and skipping your workout. If you can, enlist a workout partner, trainer, or group class to join.
Another motivated person is the best way to keep you accountable. I can almost guarantee that if you took 5 minutes to brainstorm a list of these kinds of people, you would come up with several names you could contact.
All changes will require some sort of sacrifice, so it's important you are ready to make permanent changes. Here are several other self-care strategies to make your routine stick!
Develop an Unstoppable Mindset
From supplement companies to diet programs and (some) workout plans and programs, we are being taken advantage of as consumers.
I personally distrust many people and organizations in the fitness industry, as they have found a way to make money off of our basic human weakness.
Think about it, do the contents of your refrigerator match the last fad diet you tried? You probably got tired of buying just raw foods or lemon and cayenne.
There is simply just no easy fix, and don't believe anyone who tells you there is.
This is where you need to reprogram your mindset to cut through the BS and start filtering out all the health misinformation that has bombarded our society.
If you are totally lost, it may be time to enlist the help of a trainer, dietitian, or consult with your doctor to get you on the right track.
Also, please don't hesitate to leave me a question or comment below! I am more than happy to start a conversation with you.
"Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions, your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values, your values become your destiny." - Gandhi
Schroder, Elizabeth A., and Karyn A. Esser. “Circadian Rhythms, skeletal muscle molecular clocks and exercise.” Exercise and sport sciences reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3866019/.
I personally love trivia, it presents opportunities to actively learn about things I otherwise may not have been interested about. I also love working with young athletes because each individual presents different challenges and learning experiences for me as a trainer.
Their psychology and physiology are quite different than adults, and oftentimes as coaches or parents we forget how to be empathetic towards this.
Here are a few questions related to you (if you are an athlete), to your athlete (if you are a parent), or an athlete you know (coach, relative)!
Test your Knowledge on 6 Questions about Student Athletes
If you coach young female athletes or are the parent of one, this is an important condition to know about as it is relatively common in very active athletes. Amenorrhea is the absence of a woman's period, typically as a result of frequent activity.
If you selected the option of "infrequent periods", you weren't entirely wrong, this is a similar condition called oligomenorrhea.
Amenorrhea is more of a symptom than a condition, as it could be caused by intensive exercising, but also stress, physical illness, or extreme weight loss. It's usually not serious, but could be a reason for concern, as it may lead to a higher risk of stress fractures.
It may also be a good idea to check in with how your athlete is doing handling the physical and mental stressors of practice, competition, and school! That's a lot to have on a young person's plate!
Athlete Super Foods
I kid you not, nutrition is a secret weapon in athletic performance and beets and spinach are the most powerful weapons of them all. Spinach isn't just for Popeye, it is a nutritional bad ass full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Throw it in with smoothies (the taste is almost undetectable), omelets, soups, pasta dishes, or get creative with spinach muffins and other unique eats.
Beets are excellent for overall health, but also have acute effects on athletic performance. Multiple studies have proven that beets, when consumed a certain amount of time before competing, significantly reduced oxygen consumption during the event.
This means that athletes could run harder and faster while using LESS oxygen. One could say it is a natural supplement, that beet.
The answer? 30 million! It's amazing how many young athletes we have across the nation that have raised the standards of competition not only nationally, but globally as well.
Luckily, we have hundreds of Universities, Colleges, and Junior Colleges across the country where the cream of the crop can continue on with their careers.
The question for a young athlete then becomes, how do I earn a place on a roster and get my college education paid for?
Want the secret?
Show up every day, listen to your coaches and mentors, and work hard. Day in, and day out. Until that consistent effort accumulates into something dangerous in competition.
According to an orthopedic review published in Pub Med Central, the majority of injuries occur at the knee, then ankle, then hand.
The ankle and knee joints are both vulnerable areas when it comes to contact sports like football, soccer, basketball, and hockey.
There is no preventing accidental injuries like landing on someone's foot after a jump and spraining your ankle, or getting side swiped at the knee in a freak tackle; however, there are two key rules to lower your odds.
The first rule, the stronger your muscles surrounding any joint, the harder it is for that joint to be injured. Therefore, strength training is a crucial component to any offseason or preseason conditioning program.
The second rule, is the lower you play during practice or competition, the less likely you are to have incidental contact mess you up. Imagine running relatively straight up and down and a Division 1 Linebacker dives for your legs on a tackle. Your chances of tearing your MCL, ACL, and/or meniscus just went up.
Now, imagine you anticipated his tackle and crouched before he made contact, now you've just put your knee joint in a less vulnerable position! There are hundreds of examples from various sports that I can think of, but who has time for that right now? The moral of the story: lower is stronger!
Banged and Bruised
I thought this was relatively interesting. The two most common injuries among young athletes are contusions and strains.
Contusions (i.e. bumps and bruises) make sense, but why strains before sprains? Well, come to think about it, kids are growing at a fast rate, and the growth rate of muscles has a hard time keeping up with that of bones, causing tightness.
They also sit at desks all day in school, or crash on the couch in front of a video game or TV show when they get home. Sitting, as you know if you have a desk job or drive a lot, is just one example of real life causing muscle tightness, specifically in the low back and hamstrings.
To combat the muscle tightness that occurs from growth and sitting, and decrease the rate of not only strains but overuse injuries, enforce a stretching program with your team if you are a coach, or spend at least 10 minutes with your kids every night stretching. This is good for you too, mom and dad!
Athletes, at any level, NEED Accountability
All of the above traits are obviously traits that should be valued by athletes; however, the one that stands out the most to me is accountability.
It is purely my opinion, that the adults in young peoples lives in recent years has created a culture of young people who are more entitled and "soft" than ever before.
We allow pointing fingers and excuses to be made far too often, rather than asking the young person what they could or could have done to better a situation or adversity of any kind.
As a coach and trainer, I am not afraid in the least to call someone out when they are making a mistake. If I let behavior or actions that I believe to be self-limiting or self-sabotaging happen, then I'm not doing my job nor do I truly care for that person.
That said, parents, your athlete's coaches need help! Here's what you can do:
1. Be a pillar of positivity for your athlete
When they meet failure, which they inevitably will at some point, the worst thing you can allow them to do is make excuses or point blame (coaches, refs, teammates, etc.).
It's easy to do, but don't enable that mentality, it's how losers think.
Winners focus on what they can control, and while they may be self-critical, they continue to focus on the positive and eventually come up with solutions through constructive thinking.
The truth is hard, but sometimes feelings have to get hurt for progress and growth to occur, I would imagine that's a pretty tough conversation as a parent, but ultimately necessary.
2. Throw Your Ego Out, help them grow
I see a lot of parents take the love out the game for their child because they put so much pressure on them to meet standards or perform at a level they aren't ready for and thus can't yet meet (ego example: 'My child should be playing more/better').
Parents, it's not about where you think your kiddo should be at, honestly that way of thinking is too broad for sports. Sports are too much of a journey and process to have the focus be on the big picture, it's great to have that in the back of your mind (college scholarship, winning championships, starting), but those things will be byproducts of learning from their experiences along the way.
Sports are great teachers of service, teamwork, confidence, competition, commitment, discipline, hard work, sacrifice, being a role model, and so much more! Help your athlete focus on growing in these areas and their performance and long-term opportunities will be a byproduct of their understanding!
3. Help them cultivate healthy habits
Healthy habits that are direct influencers on athletic performance are:
Having good habits in these areas will help them be more focused and give them more energy for school, their sport, and then life after!
Cultivating mentally and physically strong student athletes is a unique challenge. There are many things to take into account, from injury prevention to the psychology of individual athletes.
How are we helping - or hurting - the athletes in our lives? What we can do better to help them become better young men and women? Or, if you are a young person reading this, how can you take ownership in your growth?
ACLM, M. G. (n.d.). Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from https://nutritionfacts.org/video/whole-beets-vs-juice-for-improving-athletic-performance/
Adirim, T. & Cheng, T. (2003). Overview of Injuries in the Young Athlete. Sports Medicine Journal, 33(1), 75-81.
Bailey SJ, Winyard P, Vanhatalo A, Blackwell JR, Dimenna FJ, Wilkerson DP, Tarr J, Benjamin N, Jones AM. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009 Oct;107(4):1144-55. Epub 2009 Aug 6.
Hutchinson, M., MD, & Nasser, R., MD. (n.d.). Common Sports Injuries in Children and Adolescents. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/408524_4
S. (n.d.). Sports At Any Cost. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/ncaa/sports-at-any-costf