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Core Work in Bodybuilding

‘Core work’ seems to be a buzz phrase in the health and fitness industry at present and unfortunately this seems to have had a carry over into bodybuilding. What we need as bodybuilders is a small, tight waist to give the illusion of an ‘X frame’ – yes I know there are some bodybuilders these days who are far from that ideal and there are many reasons for this and perhaps that can be a subject for a future article/rant!
What I feel needs to be addressed is the much misunderstood obsession with the core at the moment. There are plenty of guys and gals out there religiously but unfortunately blindly performing their core exercises in the hope of a svelte midsection. What they are potentially achieving is far from the intended goal. I’m not saying that all these exercises are useless but they have to be chosen as carefully as the exercises you perform for all your other body parts.

If you are performing some of the basic exercises that are in most bodybuilding routines such as squats, some form of deadlift, an overhead press and/or bent over rows amongst others to a fairly decent level you will have strong core – without question! Especially if you don’t use a belt (see my previous article – Equipment in Bodybuilding) your core has to do plenty of work to stabilise the body.

I’m presuming that virtually everyone includes a ‘basic’ exercise of some sort in their training routine and if you don’t you need to ask yourself why. No amount of rolling around on the floor or a Swiss Ball will do as much as the basics and while I’m on the subject – don’t mess with performing your basic exercises on a Swiss Ball in order to work the core. As I explained above, the basics on a stable surface are more than sufficient on their own but an unstable surface won’t provide enough intensity for the muscles you intend to work plus it’s downright dangerous! I’m all for the Swiss Ball in certain and specific circumstances but not as a matter of course.

Watch what happens to your midsection when you are working on it. If it rounds outwards, don’t perform that exercise….ever! Watch someone when they are doing hanging legs raises the next time you are in the gym and you’ll see what I mean. When we are working our biceps with a curl for example they bunch up into a ‘ball’ and this is the look we are trying to achieve. What makes you think it will be any different when you are doing an ‘ab’ exercise? If you abs protrude when you train them – that is how they will eventually look. If that’s the look you want, go for it!!

So, the question is how do you train your abs to keep your waistline as tight as possible? Simple – perform all your exercises on the floor and make sure they are all a form of crunch and the other ‘secret’ weapon? Vacuums. Make sure your midsection stays flat and perform ‘normal’ crunches, frog crunches, crunches with a static hold halfway up and bring your knees up if you want to include your lower abs a little more (just make sure the angle of your knees is greater than 900). Perform all the exercises slowly and deliberately, with a hold in the contracted position and squeeze the abs whilst exhaling as much as possible. Vacuums are performed by expelling all the air from your lungs and ‘sucking’ your stomach in as much as possible. Imagine you are trying to touch your belly button to your spine and hold this for a minimum of ten seconds. Ten seconds on and ten seconds off for a few minutes should do the trick. For my IFBB World Championships prep at the end of last year all I did for my ‘core’ was the various types of floor crunches and vacuums performed either standing, seated or on all fours every day and my midsection was the smallest and tightest it has ever been – at the age of 44!

If you need to thicken your abs a little perform some weighted rope crunches but be careful! To give you the benefit of my experience – I used to stupidly perform weighted sit-ups and the like (years ago) and as a result my abs are really thick and it can look like I’m in shape when in reality I’m fat! This, however, resulted in my waist being relatively wide and for years since I have been trying to get it smaller and tighter – which I achieved at my last contest. So please, benefit from my experience and keep your abs flat at all times.

Don’t be a follower – ditch the core work!

Mike Gelsei BSc.