Back to Basics: Got Abs?…

Leigh Chmilar Blitz Ab TwistI had an enlightening experience the other day. It was a good reminder for me for go back to basics again. It’s always awesome to be reminded of the foundations, especially when you have been exercising for many years, and get focused on other things as you progress.

I was working on my back squat and making the AMATEUR mistake that I’m always preaching to people not to do! I had too much weight on the bar. I was pushing myself for the number of reps at a challenging weight- and all I kept thinking was: Get Stronger. Get Stronger. As I’m in the bottom position of the squat with 145 lbs on my back, one of the other trainers came over and observed as I slowly completed the squat and stood up. But, there was a 3 second period at the bottom where I thought I’d have to drop the bar to be able to stand back up.

I will probably never forget what he said: “you know you could probably add another 30 lbs to that bar if your core was stronger. Your legs are strong enough. Your core is not”. It was absolutely true. Luckily, I did not injure myself in the process of doing those squats. The reality is that I could have.

So moving forward in my own training and with my clients, establishing a solid foundation of core strength is my priority. There are a lot of important reasons why you do not want your core to be the weakest link:

1. It sets up the foundation of proper posture – we care about this because proper posture affects us everyday. Without it, we can cause a multitude of potential problems – fused vertebrae, lower back pain, rounded upper spine, etc.

2. In exercise, it prevents injury. If you are performing complex exercises- such as power lifts for sport training, or plyometrics for high intensity training, or even progressing from a single-joint movement to a multi-joint movement, your strong core is protecting you from potentially getting out of proper position and injuring your back – yikes!

3. It just looks good, k? A strong core will allow you to safely push your limits in exercise, allowing you to continue in your journey towards domination of your fitness and health goals. Plus strong abs are sexy abs!

Okay so what I do I mean when I talk about CORE?

I’m talking the series of muscles in your core that work together to provide good posture. The major muscles that are included in the CORE category are:

1. Rectus Abdominus – the “six-pack” muscles. They run up-down the front of your belly and are responsible for flexing your spine (crunching in)

2. Internal and External Obliques – These muscles run diagonally along the sides of your body and are responsible for twisting or resisting twisting of your torso.

3. Transverse Abdominus (TVA) – This important muscle runs deep around your belly. It’s considered the “waist belt” and is responsible for holding everything in, literally. Without a strong TVA, many people develop over-tight hip flexors since these muslces will take over the movement when a weak TVA can’t. This muscle is foundational for good posture.

4. Erector Spinae – also known as the “low back”. Critical in maintaining good posture and a strong spine. It’s purpose is to extend the spine (back bending), and provide lower back stability.

Here are my top 3 exercises that you should be doing at least 3-5X/week to maintain/develop a strong core:

Leigh Chmilar Abdominal Isometric Hold

1. Resistance Band Isometric Hold: You want to hold this position so that the band is being held strong directly in front of you (or twist to the side as in the photo to the right) so you are resisting the twist from the side. Now with your TVA engaged (deep waist belt muscle – very subtle muscle contraction), you want to hold still and strong, and focus on being able to breathe deeply and normally while holding this muscle engaged. Practicing this creates a new neuromuscular connection that teaches you how to operate automatically while engaging this important postural muscle.

Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds each side. Slowly increase the time you are holding and breathing.


Leigh Chmilar Crunch2. Crunch: Many people do this exercise incorrectly, which can strain your back, neck, and also defeat the purpose of the exercise. Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, you want to CURL up such that your upper back is rounded, and you are literally crunching your ribs into your hip bones. You only need to come off a few inches off the floor. You want to squeeze your abdominals (mainly rectus abdominus).

Curl and hold for 1-2 seconds, and slowly release back down. Repeat 3×20 crunches. The slower, the better!



Leigh Chmilar Knees to Elbows Core Exercise3. Knees to Elbows: You can do this move two ways: either hanging from a bar and crunching your knees up high to meet your elbows (see photo to the right) or lying down and holding onto chair legs behind you and then crunching your knees up and towards your elbows. To include your obliques in the move, crunch and twist to one elbow, and then repeat to the other elbow. This one is quite challenging in that you really want to crunch your core to bring your knees right to your elbows, but you also want to pull yourself using your Serratus Anterior (muscles covering the sides of your ribs).

Repeat 3 sets of 10. It’s harder than it looks…!

Even if you are including functional full-body exercises in your program, you should include at least 3 days of core-focused exercises like these for at least 10 minutes. It will ensure that your core does not become your weakest link in your exercises, and you will have improved posture and continue to be injury free!

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