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Crunch-Free Abs. Ab Crunches vs. Core Training. What’s The Difference?

January 30, 2016 Linda LaRue


Core training is a hot buzzword in fitness. Seems like everything abs these days is being inaccurately labeled core which is creating a great deal of confusion. What’s the difference between core training (properly defined as functional core performance) and the standard abdominal crunch and why should you care? The end result, how your body looks and performs, is profound.

Let’s begin by defining both terms. Did you know “Crunch” is a slang term and not a real word found in any exercise science college textbooks such as Exercise Physiology by McArdle, Katch, and Katch? It’s a word that was coined back in the early days of bodybuilding. Traditionally, a crunch or sit-up is performed lying face up on the floor with bent knees, then lifting the upper torso and knees together. Most physical medicine experts define a crunch as a simultaneous flexion of the spine, mainly lumbar, and hips. Crunches primarily train your two, superficial abdominal muscles, the rectus or “six pack” and obliques. The goal of crunches is to build hypertrophy and definition, which is purely cosmetic according to Dr. Jerrold Petrofsky, Dept. Chair of Physical Therapy at Loma Linda University in California and Steve Thomas, MS, RPT of Steve Thomas PT in Brentwood, CA. They state that training just these two ab muscles without properly strengthening and conditioning your entire core produces muscle and structural imbalance in your entire trunk and body, which often leads to back injuries and pain. Back pain is the #2 medical complaint Americans have, right behind the common cold (US Consumer Safety Commission).

The purpose of functional core training is to strengthen the stabilizer muscles in your entire trunk or core. Your core is the entire region beginning from the base of your skull down through and including your hips. Your core is an amazing anatomical composition of about 12 muscles that wrap around your midsection like a girdle or back brace. Some of these important muscles are the transverse abdominus, erector spinae, obliques, pelvic floor (PC), illiopsoas, and multifudus to name a few. All movement begins from your core. The goal of functional core training is to establish a proper of sequence of muscle firing patterns that will create good, strong upright posture and alignment, a strong back, balance, gait, and, finally, movement by your legs and arms. In other words your core is essential for every movement in life. A balanced, strong body requires a well-aligned, balanced, strong core. From a purely cosmetic viewpoint, when properly trained the core acts like a girdle; holding and pulling in your entire abdominal region tight and flat-especially that lower belly pooch sag problem area.


Core moves can be done in a variety of positions. The best core moves are performed in an athletic stance position and oftentimes use fitness products like a stability ball or BOSU to create instability forcing your trunk to instinctively use all your stabilizer, core muscles. Before you begin, the key to a successful core move that truly engages all your core muscles must begin with a proper, CORRect set up. All you need to do is maintain good or neutral spine alignment before and throughout each and every move. Good alignment is achieved by keeping your ears stacked directly over your shoulders and hips, pulling and keeping your shoulders down, pulling your belly in tight or what is called “bracing” your belly/core, and doing a continuous, soft Kegel (also known as a pelvic floor pull-up). You can find and activate your pelvic floor muscles by stopping your urine mid-stream. Then, you can do a soft, easy Kegel by pulling or zipping your pelvic floor muscles up and into your pelvic cavity.

Most body builders and fitness buffs do an endless amount of crunches or sit-ups to achieve flat, sculpted six packs abs. However, because sit-ups only train the two, superficial ab muscles, the biomechanics are all wrong. Crunches or sit-ups do not train the important core muscles that truly act as an abdominal girdle by pulling your mid-section in tight and flat. Thousands of repetitive, boring crunches won’t help you get the flat, sculpted abs of your dreams. Only true, functional core performance moves will get you those abs, along with developing a strong, tall, healthy back.

Why Do We Have More Lower Belly Fat and Pooch Sag? Couple reasons according to Dr. Petrofsky: First, fat like everything else travels South due to gravity. Fat cells are also loosely held together than muscle or bones making them even more susceptible to gravity’s pull. Second, our upper abdominals are held in tight by our rib cage which is a natural girdle holding in our vital organs and intra-abdominal fat.


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