Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Core values

In pursuit of strong abdomen, train for function, not vanity

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"Excuse me sir, where is the ab machine?" I whirled around as her shrill voice cut through the muffled din of the weary 6 a.m. gym crowd. "Pardon?" I replied, stifling a yawn while trying to figure out who was being so demanding at such an ungodly hour.

"Your ab machine," she repeated while unknotting her foam headphones. "I need to do crunches with a machine for my abs."

I quickly sized her up; I had never seen this lady before. Short, pushing 70, terrible posture (and fashion sense, I might add), and after some observation -- no clue what she was doing in a gym. But after chatting with her for a while, I learned she was quite adorable and from British Columbia, visiting her daughter, a gym member, for a few days. Over the last few years, she herself had been a member at several small fitness facilities in her neighbourhood, but nothing ever really stuck. Based on what I had seen and heard, my explanation for her transient gym behaviour was that no one had ever sat down with her to provide her with useful gym knowledge and exercises.

So this write-up and accompanying online video is me, providing you (and maybe in some weird sense, her) with useful information on core training.

To begin, let's get one thing straight: Unless you are a fitness model prepping for competition, you don't need an ab machine. A very wise person once taught me a 'six-pack' is not made in the gym -- it's made in the kitchen. So let's stop believing that for the general population, doing mass amounts of crunches is going to give you washboard abs, because it won't. Instead of focusing on vanity, let's train for function.

Here are four key points:

1: DEFINITION. In a fitness sense, your core muscles are classically defined as groups of muscles that attach to your pelvis, spine and rib cage and act specifically to flex, extend, side flex and rotate your spinal column. They have several other functions that are not pertinent to this topic today.


2: MUSCLE COUPLING. Your core is the link between your upper and lower body and many core definitions include muscles such as your glutes, hip flexors and latissimus dorsi (lats). If your core muscle groups can't communicate and couple with muscles in both your upper and lower extremities (often at the same time) to transfer movement between the two segments, you lose efficiency and put yourself at greater risk for injury.


3: MOVEMENT CREATION VS. MOVEMENT UPTAKE. When considering core training, it is equally important to understand that these muscle groups are also responsible for stopping excess movement and creating a stable or rigid system. This is important to understand. Take, for instance, a patient suffering from chronic back pain. It may not be advised they move through all the ranges of motion required of the spine, but they are still able to strengthen those muscles by contracting them to maintain a position and stop excess movement.


4: THE KICKER. Performing functional exercises that adhere to the preceding guidelines and following a balanced diet will still help you achieve a toned midsection, not to mention make you better at everything you do in your day-to-day routine.


So the next time your workout schedule says 'core,' think about building functional muscle that will look sexy at the beach and will also help you garden, play tennis or win the next muddy, colourful, or dirty event in which you're entered.

Don't be the lady looking for the ab machine -- but do get a Walkman. Those things are great.


We want your questions! Whether you are looking for guidance on a new pair of shoes or have a nagging shoulder injury that just won't go away, email us at and you could be featured in the next Q&A article.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 D16

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