More than 100 years ago, in 1882 to be exact, Labor Day began as a dedication to the social and economic achievements of American workers. I don’t want to get into the dispute of the origin now or maybe ever. Suffice it to say that those who are passionate about the beginning of this holiday believe that ‘…Peter McGuire stood before the New York Central Labor Union on May 12, 1882, to suggest the idea of setting aside one day a year to honor labor. McGuire believed that Labor Day should “be celebrated by a street parade which would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”… ‘ The first Monday in September has always been the yearly national tribute to contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. I hear labor and think of abdominal exercises. Abs!
Labor — contracting muscles — strength — core — abs! Just so you can see how my mind works.
However, what my mind doesn’t do is jump on the bandwagon regarding how to work abs. For many personal trainers the idea of flexion in the rectus abdominis (6-pack) is the end all of abdominal work. Not only is this off point — because the RA muscles are stabilizers and not flexors — but as spinal discs repeatedly bend injury is a valid risk.
In addition, many trainers (myself included until I got additional training) teach their clients to pull their belly buttons into their spines and press the low back to the floor. They believe that works the transverse abdominis (TA). Misdirected trainers might not understand how performance or movement uses different stabilizers depending on what is needed, and the TA is not always the muscle people need to employ to stabilize the spine. As a matter of fact, the best way to stabilize the core is to brace yourself as if you’re expecting someone to punch you in the belly. Sucking your TA in may even destabilize the spine. A side bar here: If you have tried and failed to activate the TA don’t feel bad. The muscle is supposed to activate with the internal oblique for athletic moves.
Let’s look at another stabilizer. Have you worked your quadratus lomborum today? This muscle supports the 12th rib when you breathe and works when you’re moving the trunk from side to side. It’s a bigger stabilizer than the transverse abdominis but is forgotten, ignored or worse yet, trainers don’t even know about its existence.
But the core is more than these few muscles mentioned here. . . .”The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators.” Stuart McGill, Ph.D.
Exercise done right is scientific. Trainers need to understand movement when assigning an exercise, but that isn’t always the case. My advice is to become your own advocate. Before you begin a program of abdominal and core training be sure you understand your limitations and injuries. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and overdo exercise. In the class environment you must think first of your capacity and tolerance to certain movements. Often we start a class with a new instructor and believe we’ll get better and stronger as we “just do it”. This is not necessarily true. It may be your body will prevent you from performing certain movements. It can be a congenital issue where a muscle insertion or origin point won’t allow a certain kind of exercise. There are also issues with previous injuries that can prevent you from doing an exercise. I have had clients in Pilates who are unable to do leg motions the rest of the class finds easy.
If an exercise causes ANY PAIN you should change the exercise. Take it in small steps or Stages as Dr. McGill states.
- 1. Corrective and therapeutic exercise
- 2. Groove appropriate and perfect motion and motor patterns
- 3. Build whole-body and joint stability (mobility at some joints such as the hips and stability through the lumbar/core region)
- 4. Increase endurance
- For occupational/athletic clients:
- 5. Build strength
- 6. Develop speed, power, and agility
Enjoy your Abs Day! Be Well!