Monday, July 28, 2014

Improper Training of the Abdominals

The majority of individuals that participate in exercise programs usually train their abdominal muscles. Different people have different reasons as to why they like to train abdominals. Some want that defined 6-pack, others may want to lose weight around the torso, and athletes train the core to improve their game. 

The core is a big part of every movement we make.

Most individuals think that the core refers to only abdominal muscles. In all actuality the core is a functional unit composed of the abdominal and lower back muscles. These two groups are connected by the transverse abdominals and internal obliques. The muscle groups help keep the torso stable during all body motions. Failure to train these muscles properly can change the way the body functions.

There are two parts of the abdominals; the inner unit and the outer unit. The inner unit deals more with keeping the trunk stable, while the outer unit is involved in movement patterns. In my next blog post I will go more in depth about these two units. Abdominals are broken down into three sections; upper, lower, and obliques. All three should be trained equally so no imbalances occur within the body. This is where the majority of individuals go wrong with their training. People are always in the gym doing sit-up after sit-up. Sit-ups / crunches are great exercises, but too much of them changes the body. Normal posture alignment is an imaginary line that travels through the cheek bone, sternum, and pubic symphysics. When an individual performs many sessions of sit-up / crunch exercises they actually begin to create a forward head posture. Over a long period of time this type of training will pull the chest downward. This downward pull causes an increased first rib angle. The reason this happens is because those exercises shorten the rectus abdominis which causes the pull. Not only does this chronic training pull the chest forward, but it can also be associated with shoulder dysfunction and impingement of the nerves that feed the arms from the cervical spine. If that wasn't enough, a lot of people who chronically perform sit-up / crunch exercises usually complain of back problems. If you experience lower back pain when performing sit-ups / crunches, stop those exercise completely and switch to lower abdominals and transverse abdominal exercises (leg lifts, flutter kicks, reverse crunch, and 4 point stance). It has been proven that individuals with lower back pain performing lower and transverse abdominal exercises had a decrease in their pain levels.

This post is not about bashing sit-up / crunch exercises and saying they are bad for you. It is more about bringing awareness that abdominals need to be trained properly so the body can function properly. When working the abdominal muscles, the order in which they should be trained is lower, obliques, then upper (lower= leg lifts, obliques= russian twists, upper= sit-ups). All three groups should not be trained every day. Training all groups everyday can lead to strains, poor posture, and increased workload on accessory respiratory muscles. If you are going to train abdominals everyday then make sure you only train one region per day! 

Also, abdominals should ALWAYS be trained last! Failure to wait till the end of the workout will fatigue the abdominals when they are needed for more complex exercises. This can lead to injury.

Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will go more in depth about the inner and outer units. I will also give exercise examples of how to train each unit properly.

Blog post by Cam Bergeron CSCS.

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