This Common Misconception Is Compromising Your Workout
Ditch isolated core exercises for this total-body approach for better strength, stability and endurance.
Amidst the prevalence of isolated core exercises such as sit-ups and crunches in traditional fitness routines, it’s easy to think of strong abdominal muscles as the secret sauce to strength and stability during a workout. You might even turn to targeted exercises to ‘firm up’ these areas.
But it’s an incomplete approach. “The body doesn’t recognize isolating certain body parts,” says Pete Egoscue, co-founder of Elev8d Fitness. “The definition of the core is the entire body.” In other words, activating the core should activate everything else, too. An integrated, whole-body approach is optimal for strength, endurance, stability, and mobility.
The Science of Dynamic Tension
Egoscue points to one of his laws of physical health regarding dynamic tension. It reads: “A state of constant tension exists between the front of the body and the back of the body. The posterior of the body is responsible for the extension of the body and the anterior of the body is responsible for the flexion, or bending of the body. Neither activity can take place without this action taking place simultaneously.”
For all of this to happen, Egoscue notes that the eight load-bearing joints (two ankles, two knees, two hips, two shoulders) have to be moving—which they do by nature—and that then, the ‘core’ can be thought of as this dynamic tension.
“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line,” he explains.
When you have dynamic tension and everything is ‘front to back’—your feet are pointed straight ahead, your arms don’t break the centerline of your body when you run, and you’re not rotating your body side-to-side as you move—you have the range of motion, alignment, strength, and endurance needed to sustain physical fitness.
Research shows it, too. Take a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning. It finds that ‘ab work’ that activates other musculature (the deltoids or glutes, for example) further activates primary ‘core’ muscles more so than isolated ‘ab work’ does. Take a traditional sit-up for example— the back of the neck is rounded and unengaged—thus the exercise is only working the posterior, the anterior is completely shut down.
Truth in Training
Watch the Elev8d ‘Core Ab’ exercise below. The abs are firing but notice that the shoulder blades are aligned and activated and the hips and glutes are working to support the lifting of the core.
In this exercise, the core acts the centerpoint of the anterior and posterior tension. The shoulders are not allowed to round and thus do not ‘steal’ the work from the core. “This is why the shoulders are actually the key to unlocking the core,” explains Brian Bradley, Fitness Director of Elev8d. “If your shoulders are allowed to round forward, they hold all the posterior tension and you actually shut down the core. You’re only working the rectus rectus abdominis. You’re spinning your wheels.” However if you pinch the shoulder blades and engage the anterior, the entire core—obliques, transverse abdominis, psoas, and iliacus—are all activated. “All you have to do is try it once and your can feel it,” promises Bradley.
This is exactly the kind of work that Elev8d focuses on: working the body as unit. The exercises move all eight load joints through their full ranges of motion in a way that activates both the posterior and the anterior. Thus, the muscles are are strengthened with balance and symmetry.