Female Training Fault #5: Too Much Abs, Not Enough Core

So, ladies, we’ve come to the last Female Training Fault blog (for now). The other “faults” can be found here: Fault #1, Fault #2, Fault #3, Fault #4.

You’ve learned quite a bit and are now lifting like a true athlete! However, we forgot to talk about one last thing – being overly consumed with your abs!

Female Training Fault #5: Too Much Abs, Not Enough Core

What do I mean by this? “Ab” work is referred to here as working the rectus abdominis. But this is only one part of your entire core, which consists of the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, erector spinae (lower back), and the diaphragm.

Your core is an entirely complex series of muscles that extends beyond your rectus abdominis. Your core is incorporated in every single movement performed by the human body. The core can either act as a stabilizer (isometric or dynamic) for movement, transfer force between extremities, or initiate an exercise or other movement.

The core most often acts as a stabilizer rather than a prime mover for an exercise. So, this comes into play with your barbell training, especially during squats, deadlifts, and bench press. The women I see who do “ab” training focus on the core as a prime mover. For example, performing sit-ups and back extensions (isolation movements) versus deadlifts (functional movement).

It may sound like I’m saying to neglect core work and only do squats and deadlifts – I am definitely NOT saying that. My point here is to get you ladies (and men!) thinking about the core as a driving force for movement throughout your body. We have to be able to stabilize and transfer force in order to load exercises properly. If you can’t stabilize your core, you won’t be able to effectively protect your spine and the musculature surrounding it. The point is to include core exercises that hit every part of your core – for example, toes to bar, planks, side planks, landmine twists, woodchoppers, just to name a handful.

Now let’s talk about the diaphragm. Many of you are probably surprised to see that on the list of core muscles. Truth is, your diaphragm is probably the most important one. If you can’t breathe properly through your diaphragm, you won’t be able to properly stabilize the core, plain and simple. When you breathe through your diaphragm, your belly should actually “fill” with air and distend outward. Bracing the core (Valsalva maneuver) means holding that breath and exhaling at the proper moment to increase power output and protect the lower back muscles. Try doing a 1RM back squat without using the Valsalva maneuver – you won’t even budge out of the hole without a properly braced core (and will likely cause injury, for that matter).

I hope this gets you gals (and guys) thinking about core training in a different way. Core work should include exercises that involve isometric stabilization as well as dynamic movement. Strengthening all parts of your core will not only improve your main compound lifts, but will improve your posture and overall spinal health.

To put this into practice, here’s a sample core workout to try:

Plank, 2x failure

Side Plank, 2×20 seconds each side

Landmine Twists, 4×10 reps per side

Toes to Bar, 2×10 reps

Hollow Holds, 2×20-30 seconds

Just remember, working your abs is fine – just make sure you’re building the foundation of a strong core at the same time.

Good luck, ladies!

Meet JYM Girl Katie Kollath, MS