Trying to find “the best” core exercise is a pursuit common to most gym-goers. Sit ups? Crunches? Something with a medicine ball? Using an ab wheel?
How about the inchworm?
The main function of the core isn’t to flex your spine (although it does play a part in the movement), but to resist movement (stability).
The inchworm is a fantastic exercise for many reasons.
- It uses body weight only, so the chances of it leading to injury aren’t high
- It is a very functional movement, and it involves a number of muscles working together
- You don’t need any equipment for it
- It doesn’t put the back into flexion like sit ups and crunches do.
- It can be used as a warm up or as an exercise
Here is a very thorough read from Mike Robertson on what makes up the core, and how to best train it.
Some common core training mistakes:
When developing an ab program, balance is absolutely necessary. Many avid weight trainers have a tendency to stick to one or two movements and totally neglect the other movements and muscle groups. For instance, most people I see are only performing exercises which focus on the upper RA (e.g. crunches) and rotators (e.g. twisting movements). This totally neglects four of the other functions of our abs and core musculature.
Too many reps:
Another mistake many novice weight trainers make is performing too many repetitions for the abs. In his book The Poliquin Principles, Charles Poliquin states that the abs are actually fast-twitch muscles. Therefore, these 50 and 100 rep sets of crunches aren’t doing a whole lot for our core development. Stick to heavy, low rep sets (under 15 repetitions) and watch your core strength and development improve like never before!
And some good news for those of you who like to lift heavy weights:
Before I throw out some sample programs, I want to say this: I’m in firm agreement with Christian Thibaudeau with the idea that if you perform a lot of heavy, basic lifts, very little direct core work is necessary. This is because basic movements force your core to work in harmony with the rest of your body.
I don’t do a ton of direct core work – the core is challenged during heavy chin ups, dead lifts, and squats. Try doing a set of weighted chin ups – your core will be extremely fatigued the next day, and you don’t need to do 100 of them to get that feeling of tiredness.
Anyway, back to the inchworm. I’d throw this exercise in at the end of my workout two times a week. Aim for two sets of 10 to 12 reps. As always, the rep number isn’t important. What is important is quality of movement.
Find an open space on the floor. Brace your core (not by sucking in), and hinge forward at the hips. If you have tight hamstrings, you can bend your knees a bit more than the lady does in the above video. And don’t forget to stretch those hamstrings, either.
Allow your hands to touch the floor, and take small “steps” with your hands forward until your hands are in front of your head and your shoulders. The key to this part of the movement is do resist rotation or movement through your torso as much as possible. That is your “core” attempting to stabilize while the rest of your body moves.
You want to keep a neutral spine (think about sticking your bum in the air). Not like this:
And keeping your core braced, walk your legs back up. Again, if you have long legs and/or tight hips, you can have a bit of a bend at your knee to keep your spine neutral. If you see your back rounding excessively, bend your knees more. This is a good exercise to do in front of a mirror until you get the hang of it. Another tip is to widen your stance a bit if you feel like your spine is rounding too much.
You can even throw a pushup in to make the movement harder:
- Add this to your routine 1-2x per week (aim for 10-12 quality reps, and 1-2 sets)
- Focus on keeping your torso still throughout the movement by bracing your core
- Avoid excessive spinal flexion – keep your back neutral (sticking your bum in the air is a good cue to remember to avoid this)
- Progress it if it is too easy – throw a pushup in, or walk your hands out as far as you can go.
- And conversely, regress if it is too hard. Bend your knees a lot, or even start from a kneeling position. As long as you find it challenging, the exercise will work.