Abs or abdominals are quite the buzz word within fitness culture. They’re a mystical muscle group surrounded by a lot of misinformation and confusion.
We’re told we should be doing this ab blaster for a shredded stomach. Then we’re told that abs are actually made in the kitchen. We’re told that exercises for our core are crucial to fitness. Then we’re told to stop doing crunches.
It leaves a lot of people wondering, what on earth is my core, what are my abs and do I need to be working them out?
What are abs?
Abs are short for abdominal muscle. Which is actually short for the rectus abdominis muscle. It’s a paired muscle that runs vertically down your stomach. These are the muscles that become visible as a six pack or an eight pack in people with low belly fat.
Ok, so what is the core?
The core is a much broader term for the muscles in the abdomen region. This not only includes the rectus abdominis muscle, but also the transversus abdominis, the internal obliques, the external obliques, and the erector spinae, plus a few more. It’s the front, back, and sides of your trunk.
The core muscles serve quite a few important functions for us, including stabilising your entire body. Your core is your centre of power and allows you to do most every day and basic movements. For any functional movement you do, whether that’s lifting something, pushing something, moving our arms or legs, the stability is coming from the core. It’s also involved in controlling certain bodily functions, maintaining your posture, protecting your spine from injury, and is vital in childbirth. So, it’s a pretty important set of muscles.
So, what’s an ab workout and what’s a core workout?
Ab workouts involve exercises which focus on isolating and working the abdominal muscle. Core workouts are a set of more compound exercises which aim to target and activate the majority of the muscles around your midsection. This includes the abs.
Ab workouts will see you perform exercises such as crunches and sit-ups over and over again.
Core workouts include a large array of different exercises, because of the core’s key role in most basic movements. The plank is the most recognisable core exercise. You’ll also find dead bugs, Russian twists, V-sits and hover holds amongst the core exercise bank. It’s worth pointing out, all these exercises activate your abs too.
However, the most important thing to note is that the core is activated in exercises that you might not even notice. Deadlifts, squats, and push-ups all activate your core too.
Do I need to be doing ab workouts then, or core workouts?
Working on core stabilisation and strength is really important for a number of different reasons, highlighted by it’s numerous functions.
The reality is, that when you’re working out and doing a range of compound, multi-joint exercises, which you probably are, you’ll be activating and engaging your core as you do so. So, don’t fear that you’re neglecting it by not dedicating a full 45 minutes to it.
Do your workout first. Whatever the focus is for your session, whether it’s legs, back, glutes or chest – do those exercises first. The role of your core in compound exercises is to stabilise your body and protect your spine. So, you want to make sure your core isn’t fatigued when you take these on. You can then look to add some additional focus to the core either after your main workout to make sure you’re strengthening these vital muscles. That’s where your planks, dead bugs, roll outs, and other focused exercises come into play.
In terms of an ab specific workout, this really comes down to your desire for the aesthetics. If you want a six pack, you’ll need to build muscles in your abdominals. You’ll also need to have a very low percentage of body fat that you can maintain. We’re talking very, very low. That’s hard for men. And even harder for women. We’ll leave it up to you if that’s something you want to pursue.
What’s the most effective core exercise?
The pike roll out. Or swiss ball pike. Whatever you call it, it’s the most effective without a doubt.
So, there’s overlap between the core and the abs of course. And often you’ll find these terms are used interchangeably. But for well-rounded and health focused strength, focus on the core. It’s the centre of your being and you’ll want to look after it.