The Fab Ab Challenge

The Internet is a truly amazing space, capturing the best and worst of current events, history, advice, humanity, pets, recipes, those song lyrics I never get quite right, and of course, fitness. Every now and then, a fitness myth I thought had been put to bed for good leaks into current online conversation and I hardcore cringe when I see there are lots of people who don’t know about its current condition (ie, it’s a zombie – walking dead fit fiction). One such monster that popped up this week to bite new, unsuspecting victims was an Ab Challenge. Now, to understand why it was rightly called out for being ineffective (and potentially dangerous), here’s what you need to know about your abs:

Your abs, or abdominals, are actually several different muscles, and they are all part of your core. You have the front abs (aka rectus abdominis, which is what you see) and your inner abs (aka transverse abdominis, which is what you don’t see). The rest of your core includes your diaphragm (top of the core “canister”), pelvic floor (bottom of the core “canister”), your multifidus (back muscles) and then your internal and external oblique muscles (side abs). These muscles have to work together. If one muscle is weaker than the others, there will be a “leak” in the “canister”, causing too much pressure to go to either your back, your pelvic floor, your diaphragm, or the front of your abs (diastasis recti, anyone?). Press down on any body part for a few seconds and you’ll understand that more pressure than normal = bad (unless you’re getting a very thorough massage from someone who knows what they’re doing). 

The Ab Challenge in question contained 1) exercises aimed only at 1 part of the core, 2) some exercises that aren’t even that effective for that part of the core, and 3) a ridiculous amount of reps at that. It’s the fitness equivalent of wearing snow boots and a parka to the beach this summer so you avoid sunburn. Yeah, you probably won’t get burnt, but there Will. Be. Consequences.

Here are 3 ways to train your core that are way more effective, core synergy-friendly, and don’t require triple-digit reps:

  1. Compound lifts. That’s right – squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and bench presses all recruit your entire core. Get really good at your form for each of these big compound lifts, and you’ll work that core the way God (not Satan, who clearly wrote that Ab Challenge) intended.
  2. Side Planks. There are so many versions of these bad boys that are just too good not to do. They are back, pelvic floor, and diastasis-friendly, and one of my go-tos for just about every level of strength training client.
  3. Carries. Walk with even balance while carrying something in both hands (or for added challenge, 1 hand) and you are working that core! We have to carry stuff all the time, so train to do it properly. You’ll not only have a strong core, but you may just win the grocery bag carry event if it is ever accepted into the Olympics.

Knowledge is power! Now that you know better, you’ll be able to avoid those fitness zombies that drain your time and energy with little return. For video examples of the types of exercises I listed above, follow me on Instagram @getstrongrunstrong .