There is much more to your core than the abs. What we know as ‘the core’ is in fact a complex series of muscles that include the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, the diaphragm, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximum and trapezius.
These muscles are involved in almost every movement of the human body and can act as isometric or dynamic stabilizers for movement, initiate movement by themselves or transfer force from one extremity to another. Therefore, the performance of most exercises depends on strong and stable core muscles. A stronger core inevitably leads to bigger lifts, and by the way, you can have all the leg strength in the world but without a stable core you won’t be able to use it efficiently.
Not to mention that if you don’t have stability in your abs, heavy squats will be off the limits. Core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, abdomen and hips to work together in a coordinated fashion, resulting with improved balance, stability and overall performance, which is why core exercises should be a vital part of any well-rounded training routine.
As an important part of your core, your abdominal area in itself is also a complex muscle group, consisting of:
- The rectus abdominis muscles, otherwise known as “the abs”, are a pair of long, flat muscles that extend vertically along the entire length of the abdomen. The function of the rectus abdominis is to move the part of your body between the ribcage and the pelvis, provide postural support and stability and protect internal organs in the abdominal and pelvic area.
- The obliques – the external obliques are muscles located along the sides and front of your abdomen, mostly responsible for flexion and rotation. The internal obliques are found underneath the external obliques, run in the opposite direction and perform the same activities as the external ones.
- The transverse abdominis – this muscle is seated deep in the abdomen, underneath both the external and internal obliques, and it wraps around the spine, providing both protection and stability. The transverse abdominis is a key element of your core which essentially provides the foundation for every heavy lift.
In other words, this muscle group is the basis for a strong and stable core and should be the focus of your core workout. Endless sets of crunches don’t really constitute a real core workout because they put too much strain on the back and don’t target the abdominal muscles very effectively, while bridges and planks are still recognized as the best basic core exercises.
However, one of the most efficient moves you can perform to strengthen your core is the ab-wheel rollout. The ab wheel is a fairly inexpensive and simple device that can actually provide quite a challenging workout. Apart from targeting the upper and lower rectus abdominis muscles and both sets of obliques, it also hits the transverse abdominis, which makes it a unique and complete abs workout that effectively targets every muscle in the abdominal area, leading the way to a stronger core.
In addition, this exercise trains the spine to resist hyper extension. At first it will be difficult to perform ab wheel rollouts the right way, i.e. starting and ending in a standing position, but once you become capable to use your abs to bring your body from a position parallel to the floor back to a standing position, you’ll know that you’ve developed killer core strength that will greatly improve all of your main lifts.
To perform the ab wheel rollout, start in a standing position with the wheel at your feet, arms and legs straight. Bend down, grab the wheel and start rolling it out in a controlled manner until you’re laid out as far as you can go. Then pull back until your hands and feet come back together and return to the original position. Sounds easy, right? Try it a couple of times and you’ll quickly change your mind.
The key aspect of this exercise is to maintain muscular tension in the midsection all throughout the movement and controlling the pelvis in order to maintain the correct form. By tilting the pelvis slightly backwards before you start rolling out, you can engage the abdominal muscles more effectively.
To perform this exercise successfully, you need to have basic core strength and relatively strong lower back muscles, so if it proves too hard for you at first, start by working on your core and lower back with lighter exercises. One of the best way to prepare for this workout is by warming up with 5 minutes of planking.
You don’t have to begin with a full roll out – start easy and increase the distance gradually as you gain more strength. And if you’re a more advanced lifter with some experience with the rollout, you can start with 5 sets with 20 reps for each of them.
Keep in mind that you need to keep your body completely stable while rolling in and out, keeping your knees and arms tight and fully concentrating on your abs. The further you roll the wheel out, the more tension you create in your midsection. The only way to get spectacular results is by performing this with correct form, so start slowly and work your way up to perfection.