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3 Core Truths … and Fallacies about Abs

Myths abound about how best to train your torso. Get the skinny on how to build strength and stability for a long and lean body.

By Kellee Katagi

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It’s been a couple of decades now since “core” became a fitness buzzword. Studies began to examine how our midsections influence balance, strength and performance, and exercise pros jumped on the new findings. Planks and stability-ball exercises soon became all the rage.

Which is all good—but it could be better. Even now, myths persist about what core training is and how best to achieve it. Read on to dispel a few of these fallacies.

Myth #1: For stability, you should pull your belly button toward your spine. This recommendation was based on a since-debunked analysis of a research study, but fitness experts still recommend you do this to stabilize yourself during strength exercises.

Core Truth: “Bracing” your abs is better. To brace your abs during strength exercises, tighten your stomach muscles as if someone is about to punch you in the gut. Multiple studies, such as this one, verify that this is a much more stable position that can protect against back pain and injury. Pulling your abs in, on the other hand, can actually destabilize you. No bueno.

Myth #2: Crunches = Core Strength. Despite the advances in core training, many of us still just do a few crunches and call it good.

Core Truth: Core strength is more about stability—and involves your back muscles, too. In real life, our core muscles are stabilizers, not prime movers. Think of it this way: Your “trunk” is like that of a tree, staying still and strong so that the rest of you can move freely. Crunches strengthen your front-and-center ab muscles, treating them as prime movers, but neglect your lower back and your other ab muscles, such as your obliques. Instead, aim for a well-rounded core program that emphasizes stability and recruits your back and gluteal muscles, too.

See also How to Do a Burpee

Myth #3: Core exercises will flatten my abs. (Um. No.)

Core Truth: To zap fat, you need a comprehensive exercise and nutrition plan. We’ve all heard this before, but it’s one of the toughest truths to get through our skulls. Core exercises will give you strong muscles beneath your fat, but moderate- to high-intensity full-body exercise, combined with a smart diet, is the best and healthiest path to a slimmer midsection.

Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).

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