I just finished reading an interesting article in the October 2010 edition of Strength and Conditioning Journal. The article was titled Overtraining the Rectus Abdominis and was written by Dr. Ellyn M. Robinson. In the article Dr. Robinson discusses the over emphasis athletes and gym goers place on training their “six packs” and how they tend to neglect the muscles used for extension and stabilization. I couldn’t agree more with the points made by the author and in fact have discussed such issues in blogs I have posted in the past. In the gym a balanced core is important to everyone especially when performing overhead presses and Olympic lifts. For athletes who want to run fast, jump high, or make quick cuts without increasing the vulnerability of their lower limbs; core symmetry is also vital. Dr. Robinson makes excellent observations and highlights the importance of stabilizing muscles such as the transverse abdominis during the finishing portion of the snatch or jerk.
Performing endless amounts of crunches may strengthen your rectus abdominis, but at the sacrifice of athletic performance, and may in fact jeopardize your overall functionality. As Dr.Robinson points out, placing such importance on one aspect of the core and not others can lead to such problems as pelvic tilt or even shoulder tightness and pain. Individuals begin training their cores with the best of intentions but somewhere down the line become misguided by bad information or distracted by the muscles which are visible. When training your rectus abdominis you can see when the musculature has enhanced. Other smaller stabilizing muscles you may not be able to see, yet this does not lessen their value. Train your body to be balanced and to function as one unit. In the course of a week try to execute an equal amount of exercises for the lower back, obliques, and abdominals. This approach to training will improve health and help build overall strength and athletic performance.
It is also very important to practice compound lifts. These lifts challenge your entire core and place your body under tension for extended periods of time. This highly functional and is of the utmost importance as most back injuries will occur do to a lack of strength/endurance in the core, rather than lack of strength or power.
If you are interested in learning more about compound lifts I strongly recommend Geoff Neupert’s book Kettlebell Muscle:The Secrets of Coumpound Lifting. You can order this book at www.dragondoor.com.
If you want to read Dr.Robinson’s article go to: www.nsca-lift.org.