Is it necessary to train the muscles of the core directly?
Dara: Regardless of goals, be it performance or physique, the answer is yes, it is absolutely necessary to train the muscles of the core. Now, the type of training will differ according to your goals. Athletes need a strong and stable core to be able to perform their best and their core training program will look very different from a bodybuilder whose primary concern is cut and balanced abdominal muscles. Both need to focus on activation, stabilization and strength of the core; but the body builder also needs to focus more on building muscle size to make the abs “pop” which not only wouldn’t be a concern for the performance athlete but actually may hinder in some sports that require the athlete to be lean and fast. I guess the main difference is that a body builder trains the core directly in order to develop the core muscles themselves, whereas a performance athlete trains the core so they have a strong and stable base for other movements and actions.
Colin: The short answer is absolutely it’s necessary to train the core. As we talked about last week it’s critical for most lifts, strength and performance of any nature. That said I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to train their core directly. If you are an advanced lifter who’s been doing this for a long time and you do plenty of squats, deadlifts and other big lifts you will get plenty of strengthening from that. In my lifting career I’ve gone from training my core several times per week down to once per week down to once every now and then and that has now progressed to the point where I never train it on its own directly. My abs (granted your core is much more than only abs) have looked pretty well the same the whole time. I’m not totally convinced you can change the size of your abs significantly. I do believe you can slightly change the thickness and appearance but I think it’s primarily genetics and body fat levels that dictate how your abs will look. That’s admittedly an opinion, but I haven’t seen anything to convince me otherwise yet.
Where I think it may be wiser to train core specifically is for beginners who haven’t built any strength yet. Working on the stabilization ahead of time will build a strong foundation. It’s important to build up stabilization before diving head first into strength. If you’ve been at it for a long time, honestly I think spending too much time working on it specifically is time and energy wasted that could be spent on something more useful to your goals, even if a strong core is your goal. Crazy huh?
Matt: This is actually harder to answer than I first realized. I think the clearest answer is that you have to look at each individual situation and make a decision based on where the individual is as far as core strength/stability is concerned and choose the appropriate course of action.
I do feel that as far as the average fitness buff or bodybuilder is concerned that way too much time is spent on abdominal training. I’m in agreement with Colin that if you’re an advanced lifter and already have a developed core then very little needs to be put into direct core training.
The area that I would like to see more of a focus is on exercises like planks, hyper extensions and reverse hyper extensions. Exercises that build true core strength. Putting a more athletic emphasis on core training is what I’m getting at.
Aesthetically I agree with Dara that a bodybuilder or fitness competitor will want to build some degree of mass to make their abs pop. Where I see this go wrong at times is an over emphasis on oblique training that results in a thicker waist and diminished taper. Like anything in life if you want to get to a specific destination you need a map and core training is no different.
Round 1: The best fat loss method
Round 2: Fasted vs fed cardio for fat loss
Round 5: The best 3 exercises
Round 6: The ideal training program
Round 7: How much protein for fat loss
Round 8: The last 10 pounds
Round 9: The ultimate training split
Round 10: Do carbs or fats make you fat?
Round 15: Are cheat meals good or bad?
Round 16: The fastest way to get six pack abs?
Round 17: The most effective exercise sequence
Round 18: Is cardio necessary?
Round 19: IIFYM vs clean eating
Round 20: Newbie mistakes and advice
Round 21: The most important muscle