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The Functional Side of Six Pack Abs

Six pack abs are fun to have, but they are so much more important than just appearance.

The core has turned into a somewhat trendy term lately.  Besides aesthetics of six-pack abs, the core is important to our overall daily function and performance.  Without good core strength, we can’t safely lift the things we encounter in our daily lives, we can’t stabilize the heavy lifts at the gym, we struggle cycling gymnastics movements (or getting them in the first place), and our running technique breaks down.

Let’s first define the actual area I consider the core.  The core starts at the chest level and goes all the way down to the knees.  When talking structures, the core includes the spine and pelvis, diaphragm, abs, spinal musculature, lats, hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings…and so much more.  These all have to work together, in different ways at different times, to support and stabilize your body.

In daily life…

When just looking at daily function, think of all those things you do during the day, both active and sedentary: walking from one place to another, lifting the random things you need to lift, carrying items, standing in place to complete tasks, sitting…the list could go on and on.

All of these tasks require your body to stabilize in some way.  When that stability is not up to par for the activities we need to perform, pain or injury can occur.  For example, if your strength and stability can control lifting 200#, that 40# bag of dog food is not going to be a big deal.  If your strength and stability can only control lifting 80#, it makes the 40# bag of dog food much more difficult.

All upright tasks require core strength and stability, but sitting also requires stability, as odd as it may sound.  It is a sedentary position, so we tend to forget that stability is required there.  Our lower back flexes slightly when we sit.  That is just normal mechanics of the body.  If we let it round out too much, though, over time it can cause issues.  Having the stability in the spinal musculature and the abs can help us maintain a better spinal position when sitting and therefore reducing the risk of back pain.

With lifting heavy…

The core is key to being able to lift heavy.

Starting with the pull from the ground, in order to keep your shoulders back and spine from rounding as you lift the bar off the floor, you need good control in the lats and spinal extensors.  Without good control, you will round your back, lose your tension, and miss your lift

When squatting or catching a clean or snatch, you require good control and stability to maintain the torso in an upright position.  Without that control, you either round your back or lean forward at the hips.  When either of those situations happen, you either miss your lift or you activate your back muscles more than ideal while standing up from requiring the muscles to get you out of a compromised position.

When looking at the overhead positions, either in a clean grip or a snatch grip, the amount of trunk stability for that position is significant.  Without good control throughout the shoulders, trunk, and hips, you will not be able to maintain the position for long…if at all.

With gymnastics movements…

Core strength and control is where I see a lot of people struggle with gymnastics movements, especially kipping movements.  Most times when I see someone get one kipping pull up or toes to bar but then can’t cycle another one, it is because they are losing control through the core.  Without maintaining the control through the shoulders and the tension through the trunk, cycling the kipping movement is nearly impossible.

With running…

Running requires a significant amount of core control. We only have one foot on the ground at a time, requiring good control through the hip to keep the knee from collapsing or pelvis from dropping.  Good spinal control is necessary to keep the torso strong and upright.  When these breaks down, our form breaks down.

I often see the effects of this as the mileage increases.  The body can stabilize for a period of time, but when pain sets in later into the run, the control and stability in the core is commonly at fault.

The core is for everyone!

Regardless of what your sport is, the core is a necessary element to train on a regular basis.  What this looks like to each person is going to be different.  My suggestion is to mix it up constantly.  Just doing sit ups every day is not going to do the trick.  Perform isometric holds, movements in one direction, movements in rotational directions.  Perform exercises on your back, in kneeling, on hands and knees, in standing.  So many options to play around with.  The more you challenge your body with different movements, the better athlete you will become.

What activities struggling to perform?  Email Brianne at to share.


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