Core Exercises and Core Muscles- When Did the Obsession Begin?

May 2, 2008

I remember working out before “working the core” was a massive focal point. I think many trainers have gone mad. They are almost obsessed about core exercises. I’m here to tell you, that a lot of the stuff you do works your core anyway, so no need to do a lot of the strange “swiss ball” and “balance board” exercises that you see people doing. Your time is limited in the gym, so let’s make the most of it.
female six pack abs
[A seriously nice set of amazing female abs…Yes please!]

Why I’m Going on a “Core Exercise” Rant!

I workout in a gym and see the weirdest stuff! About 4 times a week I jump on a treadmill that overlooks the entire gym. Almost every day, I see 2-3 of the trainers have clients stand on a balancing board and throw exercise balls at them. The client catches the ball and throws it back to the trainer. The trainer then throws the ball back to the client at different spots. The idea is that the “core muscles” get stronger because they have to balance the body!

Another Strange Core Exercise Phenomenon

The exercise listed above is a waste of time for the most part, but at least it is directly targeting the core. Even worse is when trainers have people do lifts targeting a different muscle group, while working the core simultaneously. Seriously…doing shoulder presses with dumbbells on a Swiss Ball to work the core? Call me crazy, but I thought shoulder presses were suppose to work the shoulders! The big problem here is that you have to use much less weight and probably won’t approach the resistance necessary to get a good shoulder workout.

Your Core Muscles Naturally Get a Good Workout Anyway

If you do a workout that involves free weights, you do body weight exercises, and you do cardio…you are hitting your core muscles. Your core muscles stabilize your body and keep it stiff like a board while doing push ups. When doing standing barbell curls or standing military presses, your core gets worked. When running on a treadmill your core transfers the force from the legs to the upper body.

The Only Direct Core Exercise I Recommend Are “Planks”

Like I mentioned before, your core gets a solid workout naturally so you don’t need to obsess over working it. I do planks as my main ab exercise and this works the core hard. Really…it is a great exercise to get an amazing six pack and works the core at the same time. Try doing a set or two for two minutes and you will know just how time efficient this exercise is.

Here are Two Posts I wrote about Planks:

Great Six Pack Ab Video Shows How Get Extremely Toned Abs
7 Minute Abs? 8 Minute Abs? What About 6 Minute Abs?

Note: I’m not slamming the use of balancing boards, bosu trainers, swiss balls, etc…I just think that it is important to get the “basics” down first. There are certainly advanced uses for these exercises in regards to athletic performance and balance. If you are limited on time and want to lose body fat as quickly as possible, I would recommend avoiding this type of stuff for a while. Your time would be better spent on cardio and strength training.

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Leo May 2, 2008 at 1:50 pm

First comment 🙂

Nice as always Rusty..

John Fit May 2, 2008 at 2:37 pm

Rusty,
I didn’t think we would disagree on anything ever, BUT I’ve found something that I see a little bit differently from your opinion.. My focus here is with the balance/Swiss Ball.. I think the benefit in doing exercises on the Swiss ball is not only to engage the “Stabalizing Core Muscles”, but also to you keep safe from injury & from overdeveloping a specific muscle in your body by jerking weights around.. I see alot of guys with jacked up shoulders, & & no chest, Swollen Triceps, but no biceps, just tons of bad muscle balance in the gym.. When you’re on a Flat Bench and doing bench presses and your chest gets tired, its very easy for the shoulders to begin to throw the weight up because your core isn’t going anywhere from the back support on the bench.. Doing Flat Dumbell Press on the Swiss Ball prevents this.. When your core is locked in from the Swiss Ball use, in my opinion & experience, your shoulders never engage, your form stays perfect, the chest is the only engaged muscle (no shoulder engagement), and you can’t lift any more weight than your core can support.. this is great for creating balance & harmony among your muscles. The same principle applies to doing military press on the Swiss Ball.. The Stabalizing features keep your core and support system engaged to the point that, you can’t afford to go heavier than your core will support, or you’ll fall off.. I totally endorse this.. This will keep only that specific muscle being worked engaged, & this inhibits one muscle from growing without the harmonious following of other muscles creating balance (ha.. that was deep) (the principle is: if the core can’t support it yet, the supporting cast of muscles aren’t ready to take on the workload) Your Boy Laird Hamilton uses this as well.. He & Gabrielle Reese are noted as performing most of their resistance training on a Swiss Ball.. This is paramount for a surfer to be strong but stable & balanced all over the body at all times.. I think this IS the beginning phase or “basics” of a lifting routine.. That’s what the trainer in your above example is trying to teach.. Balancing while engaging certain muscles in athletic moves.. Alot of people are clumsy with their muscles (its only natural.. not a bad thing) but this helps to teach you how not to jerk weights by remaining stable through core engagement.. Just my thoughts & experiences.. But, I still think you’re a “Fit-Wise” Man!

Deep Thoughts.. By John Fit..

trif_m May 2, 2008 at 3:43 pm

I agree as well on this one.

Core training is a big hit now because it is so different from training programs a bodybuilder or powerlifter would do.

I think that people, not wanting to get that bulk associated with the 2 categories named above try to do the complete opposite training wise.

But you know what, I personally think they are wasting their time.
And here is why.

#1. ordinary people don’t need core stability work or they have already as much as they need.

Let’s face it – most people only start working out when they are fat or very fat. So, does a overweight person with no previous training experience really need stability work? Does a car with no engine need pimped out rims? (sorry for the cheese analogy ;)))

What they do need is to learn the basics of dieting and weight training and cardio. Only when they have the amount of muscle/ body fat level desired should they even consider to train the core specifically because as you said, they get enough core training as an result from other exercises until then.

#2. if, lets say they really need it that stuff has minimal result.

Something more harder is needed. indeed, planks are an excellent exercise. Also, I best feel my core muscle working when I do the basic compound movements with heavy weights: flat and incline bench press DB or BB, shoulder press, modified deadlift, bent over row. And the heavy lifting also give excellent muscle tone – just don’t overdue it with the volume and no heavy BB squats please – you ass and legs go like crazy and it’s not a good look.

But, now that i think of it you wrote about it as well. let me find this babies. Ah found them 😉
http://fitnessblackbook.com/…high-reps-for-muscle-tone-bad-advice/
http://fitnessblackbook.com/athletes-more-attractive-than-gym-rats

keep it up Rusty, you are making a change.
trif_m

P.S Part two of the super foods list is posted for your reading pleasure.

http://burn-body-fat.blogspot.com/2008/04/super-food-list-part-ii.html

need some feedback. articles 4 and 5 will be posted tomorrow.

Jennifer May 2, 2008 at 3:44 pm

So true…having that tight tummy is all about low bodyfat % and being generally fit. It is as if everyones abs want to look fit, just some people eat too much and don’t do enough activity. I used to know this guy that had amazing abs and he didn’t do any sort of direct work for the abs…he just did cardio and lifted some heavy weights (without the use of a balance ball)!

Paul May 2, 2008 at 5:02 pm

I couldn’t agree more! I go to a 24 hr fitness and see the the trainers use the ball or balance board for EVERYTHING!!! That trend will end. I also agree that planks are great. They are the only core exercises I do and they work great.

Of the subject: I stumbled on to this blog and it’s great! I am one of those people who let themself get out of shape and am on the way back. I am 6ft. with a large frame and before thanksgiving I was 310 lbs. Yesterday, I did a hydrostatic body fat test and in 5 months I have dropped to 205.8 lbs with 12.8% body fat. My waist has dropped to a size 33 (Lucky jeans) in pants from over a 44.

I owe you many thanks because I have been lurking on this site for a while and agree with the majority of what you have to say and have used much of it to get where I am today. Your diet and workout suggestions have helped me to lose fat and keep the majority of my muscles. I was on a SKD for a long time but have switched to a CKD and have noticed a big difference in my muscle tone and strength. And, I don’t use a balance ball or board!

Again, thanks. I hope to be under 10% body fat by the end of summer.

Julian May 2, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Hello again Rusty.

I fully agree that spending 2 much time on core exercises is a waste of time, although i did find the plank (bridge) very affective.
What do u think about the wheel though Rusty, where u sit on yr knees and role the wheel foward untill yr chest just touch the floor, hold it there for 5 seconds for the strength and the stretch then pull yr self back up to yr knees.
Doing a few reps and sets ofcause. Tell me yr thoughts on this please Rusty.

Thanx.

jessica May 2, 2008 at 7:37 pm

I think this is a great point especially for new moms. If you experienced any post-baby abdominal wall separation (diastasis recti), then traditional core exercies can do more damage to your waistline (do not do crunches or leg lifts when trying to flatten a protruding post-baby tummy). I’ve had 3 children and developed severe abdominal separation with a twin pregnancy. One doctor told me that my muscles would never be flat again without a tummy tuck and a second doctor told me to do pilates consistently for a year and it would flatten. I found someone who understood my condition, and developed a plan to work my transverse muscles to both gain strength and pull my potbelly back in. I did only the plank and the elevator move (sit and pull your belly button to your back) every day for a long, long time. My stomach is now flat again. I hope this helps another woman with the same issue. My first plank was about 10 seconds, and now I usually do two 2-minute planks. Please be careful if you hire a trainer b/c they don’t always understand that crunches, esp. on the swiss ball, should not be performed until the abdominal wall is back together. BTW, I do think the Pilates would have been fine too as long as the instructor knows your condition b/c there a a few moves to avoid until you have your flat stomach again.
Thank you Rusty for a wonderful post.

Adam May 2, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Hey Rusty,

You make a good point in this article. A question I have is, why do trainers use all these new types of exercises and routines when the old ones worked perfectly?

Mark May 2, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Thanks again! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… I bulked up a lot last year and am dying to get thinner, skinnier. I gained muscle but mostly fat. I want to lose fat/mass, but increase definition. I’m mostly focusing on HIIT cardio followed by steady state, as you recommend. It’s working great.

My question’s on how much weight lifting to do. I have had good results with infrequent HIT. Good results in that I got bigger (in a bad way) fast. I was able to bulk up on one hard set with a slow negative, once or twice a week. Now, I want to spend most of my workout time doing cardio, but I’m worried that if I stop weight training I’ll lose tone.. I’m also worried that if I only hit a body part infrequently I’ll slightly damage the muscle even doing if I’m only doing low volume. (Pavel recommends doing the same lifts daily so you never get sore, and therefore don’t grow new muscle mass.)

So I’m wondering if it would be crazy to do something as little as, say, one set of 3 reps of bench presses (concentrating hard on the contraction), but do it several times a week? Maybe every day or every other day? Am I making sense and understanding enough of your principles?

Also, what do you think about cutting lifting time (so I can do more cardio) by doing only a couple compound exercises to hit multiple body parts? Is it an OK idea and do you have to do anything diffrently (such as make sure you’re contracting tris along with pecs if you press)?

If these ideas could work I could spend just a few minutes at the beginning of a workout doing a few reps of either presses or lat pulldowns (alternated each day), some planks, and then lots of time on cardio. Crazy?

Thanks!

John May 2, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Hey Rusty,

It is a money thing!

I just got out of the Nasm course…I am working as a trainer at NYSC here in NYC, part of town sports international. The Nasm models teaches trainers to work the core in this way because the biggest population of gym clients that hire trainers are older and need anatomical alignment before they can concern themselves with biulding muscle and burning fat. You cannot run, jump, or even lift heavy loads efficiently with protracted shoulders and an anterior pelvic tilt ( common problems of sedentary people with desk jobs). Therefore it is important to first get the head, shoulders, knees, hips, and ankles in good alignment. Does doing bicep curls on a bosou ball help that? Perhaps, but I do see the logic in some of these fou fou things for older populations that most commercial gyms cater to.

I usually work the younger clients with traditional strength training, barbell complexes, and intervals.

I do agree the obsession has spilled over way to much into the young fit crowd. These excercises were not designed for intermedmediate to advanced athletes in mind.

I have high school track athletes who have to improve performance along with body comp, I have fireman, office girls, models, and obese clients as well. Do i design the same programs for everyone?

Scott N May 2, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Side Planks FTW!!!

bumblebee May 2, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Nice post Rusty. I don’t know about balance boards and the weird stuff you mentioned, but I like the core strengthening exercises from the yoga videos, esp. baron baptiste. After following those videos, I do feel strong 🙂
Loved all your posts. Thanks for the valuable suggestions. I was a big fan of crunches until I read your post on planks. Now, I try to do planks about thrice a week. Abs are not flat yet but I see some definition in that area 🙂

Patrick May 3, 2008 at 1:01 am

Good post Rusty.

By the way, I was just wondering what kind of green tea you drink? Do you drink it hot or cold?
Thanks, as always!

-Patrick

admin May 3, 2008 at 10:54 am

John Fit,

Good counterpoint for sure. I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I write on the site…I know I am very opinionated about certain things. I just went to your site by the way, and I was laughing like crazy at the picture on this post:

Did You Know Getting Lean & Losing Weight Will Actually Make You Look Taller??

Very entertaining! Have a great one!

trif,

Great point about concentrating on the large issues first…like dropping 50 pounds of fat, before worrying too much about the small details. Well put. I even like the “pimped out rims” analogy.

Jennifer,

Abs are 95% low body fat from being active and dieting. Great point. I always reference the show “Survivor”…almost all of these guys and girls have a nice 6 pack by the end of the show, just from their low body fat levels. I don’t endorse their strategy, but it goes to show that 6 pack abs aren’t a result of doing tons of crunches.

Paul,

I’m sure that the trend will slow down to a certain extent. You have made an unbelievable transformation by the way. You have dropped over 100 pounds in less than 6 months? That is outstanding! You now have a 33 inch waist at 6 feet tall…that is ideal. You will be at 10% body fat by summer for sure. The best thing is that once you get to this point, you will never want to go back to being overweight again. It is going to be a great feeling for you to know that you will look amazing for the rest of your life. Just make the decision that this is the “real you”…and own the look. Very, very inspiring…thanks for sharing!

Julian,

I like the ab wheel. I have one at home that I haven’t used a while. I use it for static hold like doing planks. I don’t like to recommend it too often because it is an advanced exercise. It is very easy to injure the spine if done improperly. As long as the spine is kept in a neutral position…this exercise is amazing.

Jessica,

That is a great point about how pregnancy spreads the abs. My sister has been fit her entire life. It drove her crazy when she became pregnant and it spread apart her abs. She did a workout very similar to what you described and now she looks outstanding again. Women amaze me…much tougher than guys in some ways 🙂

Adam,

I think people believe that if something is new it must be better. Running just doesn’t seem like an advanced exercise, but doing advanced ab exercises on a Swiss Ball does.

I opted to not become a personal trainer, because I am more interested in teaching people how to “learn the skill” of getting fit. I believe that if you learn great principles and test and tweak them over the next few years, you will know how to get your body fit better than any personal trainer. At some point you

That being said…I think there is a need for personal trainers. Some people learn by “doing” much better than reading. Also, some people need to be pushed. For these people, personal trainers are a great idea. Plus…a good personal trainer can analyze a client’s week points and make recommendations on the spot.

Mark,

I did the infrequent Mike Mentzer “Heavy Duty” type workout for 2 years back in the early 90’s. It is a decent mass building approach, but it made me sore for days and my muscles always felt broken down. The great thing that Mentzer did teach, was that people didn’t have to live in a gym to get fit. Before his methods became popular bodybuilders were spending 2-3 hours per day hitting the weights. Mike was all about lifting 2-3 times a week max, for one set per exercise (I know you know all of this…I’m just doing a quick summary for the readers who aren’t familiar with this type of training). His aproach was to obliterate the muscle with forced reps, negatives, etc.

I like Pavel’s approach much better. The idea of not toasting the muscles and getting a few high quality sets short of failure. Then working that muscle on a much more frequent basis. The approach you described in the second half of your comment is ideal…especially for someone who has a long history of lifting. I follow a similar approach during certain periods of the year. The extra time on cardio is going to do great things for you and those brief sets are going to insure that you retain strength while leaning down. It is exactly what I would recommend for you.

John,

First of all congrats on becoming a trainer! The great thing is that you “walk the walk” and are in outstanding shape (John is a model in New York and is lean and ripped). You are going to be a great trainer, because you think outside of the box. The best trainers are the innovators…like the guy who trained the actors in the movie “300”…he had them do some very effective “old school” functional training. The nice thing is that I know you will develop your own methodology and people will love it. Make sure and read the mainstream stuff along with the free-thinkers (like Lyle McDonald, Ori Hofmekler, Pavel Tsatsouline ,and some of Dan Duchaine’s old stuff). I’m excited for you!

bumblebee,

I will never do crunches again. I just hate the idea of crunching the spine for rep after rep…plus planks give your entire ab wall an even workout…crunches over develop the top “4 pack” part of the abs and neglect the lower part of the abs. Planks also hit the obliques and intercostals.

Patrick,

I just buy the cheap Lipton Green tea. Funny you should ask if I drink it hot or cold…I seem to get a much better thermogenic effect when I drink it hot. I swear it makes me burn more calories when I drink it hot. I have zero scientific proof on this one, but I till have a weird feeling that hot is the way to go. Try it hot and try it cold and tell me if you notice a difference.

Great stuff guys!

Rusty

Jeff May 3, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Rusty I agree with you except I would go as far 100% low body fat! The only ab exercises I do are planks and raising my knees to my chest while I simultaneously do pullups. For me personally it’s been 90% diet and yes can see my abs. My criteria is results and I only take the opinions of those who have achieved results seriously. I don’t won’t to sound like an elitist but my gym is packed with the same overweight people doing the same stupid swiss ball exercises. Low reps with a fork is the key to nice core. Of course that’s just my opinion

Nathalie May 3, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I am a Group X instructor and if i got a dollar for everytime a participant asked to do “abs” I would be one very rich gal. I can’t stand working abdominals b/c I have always know it’s pretty much a waste of time, but I do it for the sake of my numbers. I also think it’s funny that I teach a pretty intense cardio dance class and every thursday i compete with an abs class at the same time. of course the ab class wins. i find it funny that ppl are so lazy they convince themselves the ab class is doing more for their “six-pack” than my cardio class. hysterical!

Ron May 3, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Maybe I’m a little goofy, but I love the fact that you keep referencing the 300 workout video that I posted!

Josh May 3, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Alright this is my problem right now I’m trying to gain some weight. I was 135 during the basketball season 5,11 so pretty much a skinny kid. when i first started lifting weights I relaized that it would not hurt me to get up to about147-150( i’m 144 right know) so it wouldn’t be so easy to get pushed around on the basketball court and to have more muscle so i can jump higher.

In the process of trying to gain more vertical, muscle and keep the fat down i have strained my hip flexor 3-6 weeks is physios estimate but I’m thinking more 2-4 weeks. Limiting my exercise to sprints of intense skipping intervals and stair stepping(not exactly the ideal things that a 15 year old likes to do to get exercise but getting and staying in shape isn’t always a walk in the park) the doctor says 3-6 weeks before i can play basketball again or run in track and field( I do 100m and 200M) but i’m thinking more like 2-4 weeks.

Well know that that you have heard my long explanation can Rusty who the people who love the site like me give me some tips on how to gain 6 pounds more of muscle well keeping the fat down or your opinions on me gaining a bit of weight.
Thanks

Tom Parker May 3, 2008 at 5:58 pm

Fantastic post as always Rusty. I’ve never really experimented with the swiss ball. It’s never really interested me and after reading your post I think I will stay away from it.

Thanks for the heads up on the planks though. I did them once during a circuit training session and my abs were VERY SORE the next day. I will try incorporating them into my future workouts.

Are planks the only ab exercise you do? I heard that the bicycle was also good for your abs and was wondering what your opinion was on this?

John May 3, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Thanks Rusty…Do you know anything about PT on the net? I think it is a great resource to get up on and start grinding out articles. I am down to 5.5 % bf by the way…

Funny thing about walking the walk. There is only one other trainer at my gym with a great six pack who walks the walk as well. His sport of choice? Break dancing. He was teaching me a few moves and let me tell you it is no joke. Think of an extended HITT cardio workout with tons of isometric static holds.

Ori and Pavel are my hero’s for now as I like an intergrated approach that doesn’t get in the way of life. Ori has a great podcast every week off of his site with a ton of amazing info. The guy is really serious.

Lyle and Duchaine give great dietary advice but it all boils down to the same thing. Even the warrior diet to a certain extent is a carb cycling diet. The only thing that changes are the phases…some do longer low carb than others, etc… The fun thing is this…once you hit a bf level you can live with and go really low carb or low calorie during the week you can essentially splurge on weekends without any drastic side effects.

jimmay May 3, 2008 at 7:37 pm

I have a question rusty Is a calorie a calorie. I want to maintain my 165 frame. I ve been eating six meals a day and just feel enough is enough. The question is if i stay at around 2000 cals Can I eat whatever I want thats the question I read in a post your sister lost weight eating no so healthy foods how did she do this?

Sandy May 3, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Hey rusty!! I like green tea hot too. Its great!

Chris May 4, 2008 at 2:30 am

Great post, Rusty. I agree 100%. People spend way too much time on core work, and not enough time doing the resistance exercises, and cardio, that will provide the true results. I think much of this has to do with the fact that people think they can spot train. If they need to lose a few inches in the mid section, they believe that doing all core work will provide those results. I agree with doing some core work, but certainly not making it a “focus”.

The fitness industry has caught on to this, and this is why you now see just about every ab, and “core” contraption on the late night infomercials, that you can dream up.

Jason May 4, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Rusty I had a question if I was gonna lift chest Mon , arms tue, back thur, shoulders fri, I was wondering how many sets for eachyou would since ur spliting body parts up by diffrent days

Thanks
Jason

theyo May 4, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Rusty ive been doing the six meal approach and i feel like i need to stop it even though it has gotten me down to my 164 weight which i am pleased. Ive done it without doing any cardio. i was wondering for my 3 meals if this would work
breakfast-Oatmeal or 100% whole wheat bagel/muffin with a banana or apple
Lunch and dinner- grilled chicken/steak/salmon salad

And if i go out for drinks I skip breakfast. Now that i am going to try to do cardio i will do it in the mourning and then have carbs after i am done.

does this sound like a good plan to stay lean and suggestions would be great

admin May 5, 2008 at 12:57 am

Jeff,

“Low Reps with a fork”…the funniest way of putting this I have ever seen! Funny you should mention chin ups as a way to get better abs. My abs have sharpened up a bit as a side benefit of doing a lot of chin ups. I have been trying to improve on bodyweight exercises this year…I’m great with cardio and weights, but I’m not the best at chin ups. Also…I can’t say enough about planks. The best way to develop the entire ab area for sure. Last but not least…diet and cardio…the true secret to six pack abs! All great points.

Nathalie,

People hate hearing that abs are all about diet and intense cardio. Ab exercises are easy and not effective at all compared to tough cardio. Great points!

Ron,

Yep…I really enjoyed that Youtube video. Hey…totally off subject, but I know you into the same kind of cinema and alternative comedy type stuff as me. Are you a fan of “Flight of The Conchords”…these guys kill me!


Here is them do “The Bowie Song”…the best impression of David Bowie ever. Wait until they sing…Hilarious!
[Anyone reading this with Netflix, should pick up season one. Some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen in a long time.]

Josh,

Since you are a younger guy, if you just focus on gaining functional strength in the mid-rep range you should put on muscle. Drink a good protein source after working out, then eat again one hour later. Eat just a bit over maintenance level calories and you will gain muscle. It will be a snap at your age.

Tom,

I don’t do the bicycle for abs, but I have heard it works it a bit. I only do planks, but I also have one of those really cheap “ab rollers” and I basically roll out and do a “plank” in an extended position. I may do a set or two of these at home if I feel like I have skipped a few ab workouts. They are intense, so I don’t do them often at all. A good plank-like exercise if done properly.

John,

I go to a underground club down the street from my apartment that plays 80’s industrial and “dark wave” dance music. From 3-5AM they have break dancing contests. Every single on of these guys are in incredible shape. Note: Now that I’m a bit older I only hang out for 2-3 hours. Gone are the days where I stayed at these after hours places until 9AM. I’ll look up Pt on the net.

jimmay,

Is a calorie a calorie…well not exactly, but it is closer to the truth than people think. You can eat pretty poorly and still lose weight if you are in a calorie deficit…I just don’t think it is a great idea to eat poorly for long term health reasons. Plus your skin and hair will look better if you eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, eating too many high GI carbs will spike your insulin levels and your body will not use fat for fuel if your insulin level is too high. My sister actually lived off of Tootsie Rolls and Diet Coke during the day and a chicken breast salad at night. She did this for 2-3 years while working out and looked outstanding. I don’t recommend this, but it goes to prove that you can eat “junky” calories and lose weight as long as the calories are kept low enough.

Chris,

The whole misconception about doing ab exercises to lose stomach fat kills me! Anyone who has a decent six pack knows it is all about body fat levels. My hope is that more and more people learn the correct strategy. I feel bad when people with “good intentions” are given bad advice.

Jason,

I normally recommend a 2-day split because that is a great way to increase strength and performance. Since the muscles get worked more often with a 2-day split vs a typical 3 or 4-day split, you get to practice increasing the “skill” of generating strong contractions in a muscle on a frequent basis and gain more strength as a result.

The 4-day split like you are doing is good for size. You don’t get to work each muscle as often, therefore it is okay to do a lot of sets and blitz the muscle group. You can do a lot more sets and induce a small amount of muscle damage. Since there is 4-5 days of rest the muscle will have plenty of time to heal. If building mass is your goal…then this is a good strategy. If you are more about strength and performance, then hit each group more often by doing a 2-day split.

Theyo,

It looks good to maintain, but if you want to lean down further avoid flour (even wheat). Don’t eat the bagels or muffins. The oatmeal is fine, but only eat bagels and muffins on an infrequent basis. Bagels are actually really bad when you are trying to lean down. If you love them, they will do less damage if you eat them occasionally after your workout.

Great questions and comments!

Rusty

Jay May 5, 2008 at 1:32 am

Here is the deal Rusty…I have a sudden event in three weeks where I have to be as lean as possible….what is the best way to lose fat quick…

Ron May 5, 2008 at 6:22 am

I’ve heard a little. I didn’t realize that they had a whole show until someone told me. Thought it was like Tenacious D (or did they have a show too?). That really is a good Bowie impression. Interesting to see this today, as I was just watching a bunch of Youtube videos with him. At 5 in the morning. Damned insominia…I blame that new Grand Theft Auto game. Now I’ve got to figure out how to get my sleep pattern back on track. Any suggestions?

Speaking of music, I’m sure you’re already familiar with Peaches, but you should also check out Whitey. You can find ‘im on myspace.

theyo May 5, 2008 at 7:45 am

sounds good ill stick to oatmeal. I think now that i am trying to maintain Ill have a bagel once or twice a week. I was wondering for cardio if riding a bike would be ok its a trail and i enjoy being outside and i was wondering if i could do that and hitt. Also do you have to do cardio right after your workout or can it be later in the day

thanks

theyo

ps. yester i switched to three meal plan and had a blizzard from dairy queen and my weight stayed the same when i was on the six meal plan it would have gone up 3 or 4 pounds

thanks rusty

AFDerrick May 5, 2008 at 9:22 am

Alright Rusty, a question I got from your comments. I have recently (last week) replaced lat pulls with chinups when I do back. If I have time I will sometimes do 1 – 2 sets of lat pulldowns but most of the time I only have enough time to do what i do and no extra time. Is this a good strategy or should I split it up and only do chinups 1 -2 times a week and the third day do lat pulls? I feel a lot more sore in my back (at least I was last week) over “conventional” weights.

tim May 5, 2008 at 12:16 pm

I was wondering if you could eat buffalo wings and crspy chicken finger as long as there under my calorie constricted means or should i stick to the grilled

thanks

Tim

Helder May 5, 2008 at 5:59 pm

I agree with you Rusty, there’s a swiss ball fever out there, among other exercises. Most exercises we do standing work the core much harder than any swiss ball exercise, crunches or leg raising. Bodyweight exercises like push ups and chins also work the core harder than direct abdominal training. Like you say Rusty the only direct exercise i believe is really good for abs are the planks.

jackson May 5, 2008 at 8:14 pm

Why is it that everyone preaches six meals and why bodybuilding people are so lean when they eat six meals. I see how people say this but then other people(but not many) preach like you 2-3 meals. Is there a better one way or another in your opion?? why is everyone on this six meal approach. Is it hard to maintain muscle? Or is the weight your losing muscle? I mean the last two weeks i tried both. when i eat six meals why weight goes up and down during the day and if i cheat it goes up by alot and when i eat 3 it stays more steady throughout the day even if i cheat.
whats your opion?

thanks jackson

Josh X May 5, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Hey Rusty,

Thanks for creating such an awesome website. Between you and Men’s Health, I’m set for life in the advice department. However, I do have a question concerning cardio. What’s your take on games of pick up (half-court) basketball and soccer? Are they HIIT enough for burning fat efficiently? I remember such activity being very useful in helping me lose the extra 7-8 lbs I gained in my first year of college last year, but now that I’ve started lifting and am at a more “plateaued” weight, I’m not sure if too much of that kind of cardio (I would play for 1-2 hours every day) will reduce my muscle mass.

Also, what’s your take on fat burners that incorporate large amounts of caffeine, and on something like Conjugated Linoelic Acid?

Thanks for the help,

Josh.

Jen May 5, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Rusty –

This is tangentially, but since you did mention you want to teach people about being fit, and I thought it relevant: What’s your take on body typing? Eg, mesomorph, endomorph, ectomorph. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on the subject and I’m no closer to figuring out my body type than I was when I first started reasearching the subject. Do you (or anyone else here) have a preferred book/author on the subject? I even paid $60 for some online metabolic typing test from Dr. Mercola, and I felt like it was really disappointing. I can’t be objective about what I like to eat or if my eyes are watery or not!

Jen May 5, 2008 at 10:51 pm

I meant tangentailly related. I’m forgetting verbs! I need to go to bed… I ran a 1/2 marathon yesterday. 😛

admin May 5, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Jay,

Eat nothing but soup made of chicken breasts, chicken broth, cilantro, cabbage, onions, hot peppers, etc. You can also eat salad made with chicken breasts and use a vinegar-based dressing. Think lean meat and green veggies. It is a brutal 21 day diet that will allow you to drop 10-20 pounds in three weeks. This is a really simplified version of Lyle Mcdonald’s book, The Rapid Fat Loss Handbook.

Ron,

Peaches is hilarious! My girlfriend recently saw her in concert and said it was insane. I’ll check out whitey. You are asking the wrong person about sleep. I work 55+ hour weeks at my job, workout 4-5 times per week, and work on this blog 2-3 hours per day.

theyo,

I encourage people to get outside and exercise. Who wants to spend all of their time trapped in a sweaty gym! Bike riding is great exercise. Also…you don’t have to do cardio right after lifting. It is just more time efficient for people with a busy schedule.

AFDerrick,

You can do lat pull-downs in the same workout as chinups. You probably need to do them after chinups, unless you are really good at chins (I am not). Feel free to mix it up. No reason to be too structured as long as you are improving in chinups.

tim,

You have to live! I eat buffalo chicken wings about once a month and chicken strips about 1-2 times per month. I chase them with a cold Corona light most of the time. Just eat healthy 90% of the time and this won’t hurt you at all. Heck, it will probably help keep your body guessing to a certain extent. See…what other fitness site is going to recommend beer and buffalo wings? I love telling the truth and not saying what “sounds good”.

Helder,

Yep…I did standing barbell military presses and I know it hit my core well. The nice thing was that I was able to go heavy to really hit my shoulders as well.

Jackson,

The only way six meals per day works is if you eat nothing but small, extremely clean meals. If someone eats six meals, but has a big dinner with friends on a Saturday night…or goes out for a Thursday happy hour…they will have a tough time losing weight with the 6 meal per day approach. I like to be fit, but I enjoy having a social life and I like having higher calorie foods on occasion. Eating 2-3 meals per day allows me to enjoy beer, desserts, candy at the movie theater, the occasional brunch, etc. I can do this year-round and stay very lean in the process. When I was eating 6 times per day, I never got really lean. If I would have been extremely strict and drink a bottled water at the movies…or just ate salad when I went out to dinner it would have worked. Who wants to do that? I want to eat my grandma’s pie, my sister’s cookies, have a bratwurst and beer at Oktoberfest, etc.

Cheers,

Rusty

admin May 5, 2008 at 11:06 pm

Josh X,

Basketball and soccer are incredible forms of exercise. The only people who aren’t lean who play these sports must have a terrible diet. Seriously…when I play “21” with two of my buddies during the summer I sweat for the next 3-4 hours. As far as fat burning goes…save some money…just take 200mg of caffeine 30-60 minutes before working out or playing basketball. It works well.

Jen,

I don’t even worry about that. I think people more often than not use their “body type” as an excuse to not get in great shape (most people who are overweight think they are endomorphs). I’d rather not even focus on this. I used to be a bit obsessed as well. I don’t really know a good author to recommend. I wish I could be of more assistance to you. It is actually a decent question, so hopefully someone reading this will have a recommendation.

Great comments,

Rusty

km May 6, 2008 at 8:12 am

these guys are little too big in my opinion but check our their pull-up routines…craziness.

niki May 6, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Rusty,
So, if the secret to great abs is low body fat percentage, is the secret to getting rid of cellulite also to have a low body fat percentage?

Also, it would be cool to have your sister be a guest contributer (or have her own blog) about body and fitness after baby. I like the comments you have had about her and her experiences.

Angie May 6, 2008 at 2:57 pm

(Hey stranger…lol)

I totally agree with you here Rusty! I see some trainers making their clients do some of the most ridiculous exercises that are supposed to be working their core. The poor clients…. My clients get one exercise for core at the end of our session..the plank…always the first one..then we move to the side plank. After that has been mastered, we do all the other core exercises (sometimes ya just gotta make um THINK they are working their core to please them..lol)

I don’t hardly work my core at all. I know that the majority of strength training workouts are working it just fine!

Jen May 6, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Niki –

Cellulite can happen to anyone no matter what their body composition is. There’s no way to get rid of cellulite, but there are things you can do to improve the appearance of. Getting circulation into your cellulite prone areas is one thing. Staying hydrated is another. There are also two new popular cellulite appearance reducing procedures out on the market. One of the is called VelaSmooth and I forget what the other one is. VelaSmooth actually has some impressive clinical results, but it’s a little expensive and time consuming. You need something like 2 treatments a week for 8 weeks. It really does improve the appearance of cellulite but there’s no quantifiable way to measure it.

Rusty –

I heard you. A lot of books I’ved read on the subject sum up body typing by saying, “If you’re reading this book you’re probably not an ectomorph”. I’m interested in body types not as an excuse but as a way to figure out what my best macronutrient ratio is. I could eat a balanced diet according to the AHA, or I could eat a diet which specifically suits me and gives me some kind of advantage over the AHA diet. Whether it’s me being able to eat more calories, or me being able to eat the same calories but stay at a lower body fat level, I don’t know.

thomas May 6, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Rusty i am 6 ft 168 . I wanna get down 3 lbs the question i was wondering if you could help an outline for me(if possible). I work out around 8 00am mon tue thur friday.
I usually workout on empty stomach and then follow this diet

My meals are
breakfeast-oatmeal(300) cals apple(380)
lunch/dinner grilled chicken salad w/ chesse & blue chesse dressing

I was wondering what suggestions you could give me for losing the weight and then suggestions maintainence diet

Thanks i know its alot

tim

jared May 6, 2008 at 9:39 pm

I was reading articles about how you eat low carb leading up to an event or a workout and then eating carbs afterwords

thanks jared

ason May 6, 2008 at 10:02 pm

I saw you had a article on high carb day and low carb days. if i was to follow this when i was doing 3 meals. would i do this
low carb- 3 chicken vegtable meals
higher carbs- 3 bows oatmeal with fruit

thanks

ason

admin May 7, 2008 at 1:26 pm

niki,

Jen gives great tips on cellulite. It will definitely help to drop body fat, but you can’t always get rid of it 100%. I wouldn’t stress to hard about this…men aren’t nearly as obsessed as women about cellulite. We don’t notice it unless it is out of control.

Angie,

Isn’t it funny that people are so focused on this whole “core” deal. People talk about it non-stop these days in the gyms that I visit. About 10 years ago nobody was mentioning it. Nice to have you comment…I need to visit your blog and see how your “Women’s Diet and Fitness” blog is doing. It looks better every time I visit. WAY more polished looking than my blog! I’m so lazy when it comes to changing up the theme on my site (I do have sweet photo’s, but my theme is a bit dated).

Jen,

Yeah…I have heard of eating different ways for different body types. I haven’t really looked into it too much. If you find out anything, let me know so I can do a post on it and point people to a good resource. I know people can get lean without the information, but perhaps this info would make it easier.

Thomas,

Your plan looks solid. What I would do is replace the oatmeal with a low calorie protein shake for the next 2-3 weeks. I would also use “Rice Vinegar” as your salad dressing for your dinner meal for the next 2-3 weeks. You lose that body fat for sure in short order if you follow this advice. Once you lose the weight you can go back to your normal diet and eat more calories to maintain.

Ason,

I would keep the protein steady for both days. So you would eat protein and veggies on low carb days, but eat protein and a bit of rice or potatoes on higher carb days. You would also add a bit more fruit on higher carb days. When you are trying to lose a lot of fat…I would do 3-4 weeks of low carb followed by a week of higher carb. Just don’t go overboard on carbs during that week. You will gain back a little weight, but you don’t want to gain all of it back.

Have a great one!

Rusty

r.b. May 8, 2008 at 4:00 am

hey rusty I just found this blog because since March I’ve been trying to get back into shape.

I’m kind of bummed on your comments about core training because I think you are right about a lot of it. However, I want to point out that it can be helpful for certain people. I used to be super fit. When I was a kid I was skinny (6 foot 1, 155 lbs) and then I worked out with heavy weights and go up to 175. About 6 years ago I hurt my back real bad snowboarding and basically couldn’t walk without a cane for six months. I didn’t work out seriously and slowly I gained about 50 pounds. My back got a lot better pain-wise even though I got way out of shape. I was pissed off about how fat I got, so I started to work out again. But, the doc said I’m not supposed to do heavy squats or even do serious running. Which sucked because that is how I got in good shape in the first place. I found a private trainer who does a lot of “core” stuff with me and it has really helped out my flexibility and strength. I also have lost 25 lbs since March. I’m at 195 now and hope to get to 170 by August. Anyway, I think a lot of standard bodybuilding and weight training exercises would be more effective but I’m stuck doing squats on a balance board holding a medicine ball for the time being. The plank is the best one, I totally agree with you there.

Also I was wondering if you had any opinion on Paul Chek? I was out of it for a while so didn’t realize “core fitness” was such a craze. I only got into it because I read on Danny Way’s website (pro skater who jumped the great wall of china) that he hired Paul Chek to get him back into shape after he broke his neck surfing. He seemed to do a lot of “core” stuff so I looked up a core trainer to help me out.

ok, that was a bit rambling but keep up the good work.

admin May 8, 2008 at 8:57 pm

r.b.

Injury rehab is a different ballgame altogether. These balancing boards and exercise balls are great for this. I’ll take a look at Paul Check. If his site looks good, I’ll do a feature post on him. Sorry to hear about your injury! I injured my back badly about 18 years ago from putting on way too much weight on a leg press machine.

Thanks for the compliments…glad to have you as a reader and contributor!

Rusty

pieper June 1, 2008 at 1:12 am

plank,yes a good exercise,it works and so on…
But I want to remember : it is just an isometric effort..
So What about isometric? It’s a crap?I noticed from Pavel that Isometric doesn’t work because hasn’t anadeguate range of ROM!
Otherwise: why don’t apply isometric(like plank) in other fieldS (chin -up weighted an so on)?
Thanks

admin June 1, 2008 at 3:06 am

Pieper,

I think the major difference here is that the main function of the abs is to stabilize, not functioning as a prime mover. This is why ROM doesn’t come into the equation.

Rusty

Chris B June 2, 2008 at 12:17 pm

I agree with your assessment of core work outs being largely unnecessary. You use your core in most exercises and aslong as you ‘activate it’ you can really focus on it in ALL exercises, some moves with weights are actually more effective for your abs than most of those Swiss ball techniques anyway.
I won’t say that they are completely useless though….I find doing the plank with my hands on the Swiss ball press up style is far more taxing than doing it on the floor. I incorporate two more exercises into this by actually doing a press up on the SB and then an ab climber when I return to the top. 3 birds killed with one stone and its intense – 3 sets of 20 performed slowly! I believe you engage your abs 40+% more doing press ups on the SB.
I study shaolin so core is vital for punching power and balance, its where all your strength comes from, Bruce lee believed that and its what Ive been taught/found for myself too.
What makes me laugh is the way they advertise these core workouts, like you can spot reduce, you know…they have the hot girl doing leg lifts in these adverts as if THAT exercise got her in that shape! Infact they shouldn’t be allowed to do that if you ask me. My mum tried to lose weight for years doing ab workouts until I found out what she was doing and explained the need to eat right and have low body fat. So many people dont know any better, so sites like this are crucial, its important to hear alternative perspectives from individuals who speak from their own experience.

admin June 2, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Chris,

I am in total agreement with you. I do my planks on a swiss ball after doing them on the floor. I think they are a good tool, but just like you…I think it needs to be kept in perspective.

Rusty

Brendan July 9, 2008 at 8:12 am

Basically, the way i see it is that if you dont think the swiss ball or bosu are useless then you arent using them properly…. I do every resistance exercise i possibly can standing on either a bosu or swiss ball…. When any of you can do squat/military press standing ontop of a fully inflated swiss ball, come and see me.
Since i have been doing this my strength in large compound movements has gone through the roof, im adding kilo after kilo to my bench, squat and deadlift so much faster than i was before i dedicated 2days a week to pure core training.
Heres a few for you all to try….

Turn a Bosu arse-up (so your standing on the flat…) take 80% of what you would normally shoulder press sitting down. Now squat until your butt hits the bosu and explode up through the squat and continue through your arms into a standing shoulder press. 8reps for 4 sets.

Work at standing up on a swiss ball…. ok now get someone to throw you a decent size med ball… 8-10kg… place the med ball in one hand and extend it all the way out to one side… then back across your body nice and slow to the other hand and then extend that arm…. do this until you physically cant do anymore!

Get a Bosu and a good cable machine… Bosu arse up again… Left leg on the bosu (yes just one leg, put the other one in the air). Set your cable machine as low as possible (angle wise)..Now take the handle of the cable machine in your right hand. Now, listen carefully… so do a single legged squat and as you explode up through the squat do a single arm row with the cable… 8reps, 3sets per leg.

Do your good ol’ hyperextensions (4 sets of 25reps), your cable crunches (4×25)and your hanging knee raises(4×25) and finish with a plank until you collapse and it feels like your rips are ripping through your skin. (My record was a 8min 33sec bridge after this routine….. and yes i will brag because its taken me years to get this far 😉

So instead of jogging away and watching people core train…. get out there and take core training to a whole new level, the only thing that limits us is the boundaries we set in our minds…. just use planks??? sounds like a boundary to me, what are you scared of? pain, failure or just hard work?

admin July 9, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Brendan,

Best counterpoint yet. Great comment…and thanks for giving people a routine to follow. I listen and consider all comments and this is probably the best argument over a post I have made.

Basic planks work wonders for me…I guess I just like the simplicity of it all.

Have a good one,

Rusty

Marcus August 23, 2008 at 3:54 pm

Hi everyone. Just found this website. Like it a lot.

I have to say that I broadly agree. As I see it, if you’re coming from a low base, you don’t need to be doing a lot of these exercises. You need to build up some basic levels of performance before you have to worry about that stuff.

These core exercises with balls and such like are very useful for someone who has been doing a lot of multi-gym/fixed weight type exercises and nothing else. Those things allow you to work one muscle group without having to put any power along the length of your body, with the result that your muscles grow without you developing any real strength at all. Adding the balls is a great way for people to start to get over that.

That being said (and I here I agree with the author), a lot of free weight exercises are very good for the core: anything where you are standing up and having to use your strength to stop your body tipping. Some of the traditional power lifting exercises are superb in this respect- like dead lifts and squats.

Now.. on to the medicine balls. I have recently discovered these and I love them. I like them a lot for abdominals (like slams and figure 8s). As I see it their main use is for explosiveness, like doing press ups with your hand on one, and pushing up to switch the ball from one hand to the other. That’s a kind of workout that is hard to get in any other way. But it’s definitely not for beginners. For me it’s more something just to shake up my workout a bit, as I get bored quite easily and need to mix in new things.

So, anyway… core exercises as we see them are probably mainly corrective for people who are victims of bad gym methods.

The Fitness News June 3, 2009 at 2:33 am

I do agree that “core training” has been totally exaggerated, but I think the reason that has happened is because a lot of people are ignoring twisting movements that use your obliques and lower back muscles.

Everyone does crunches, but no one does jack knives or torso spins.

I trained for years doing a full split routine with abs workouts and all the compound movements and everything, but one thing always lacked and caused problems and that was my ability to twist my upper body.

I didn’t do any twisting exercises, so they were very weak.

My one arm bent over rows felt like cardio and I almost got stitches in the opposing side abs when I did them.

So when I realised the problem I started doing twisting exercises and it felt really good but wasn’t enough, but then I realised that the best way to improve the twisting movement is by running!

Because you’re twisting your upper body with each step..

So if anyone feels as though their mid section is still weak or their twisting power is not fast or strong enough, try running regularly and see what happens…

By the way, 2 minute planks are SO HARD! I did an ab strength test one day and 2 minutes was the minimum to even be included on the strength rating list as “very unfit”.

It’s such a mentally hard exercise! But if you can force yourself to do it every morning it certainly feels good for the rest of the day!

velasmooth February 11, 2010 at 11:28 am

I can completely agree with what was mentioned by “the fitness news” above. Back when i was running regularly and competed in events that involved a lot of running such as “100m & 200m sprints my abs were slowly moving from a 4 pack to a 6 pack and was getting nicely toned.

This kind of went to prove how running is effectively doing crunches and twisting at the same time while of course working your core muscles. Plus your legs and arms are getting a great workout because of the nature of the excersize!

Wow…That makes me realise i need to get running on a regular basis again to get my fitness and firm abs back!

Tracey March 10, 2010 at 2:06 am

I love Peaches! I will check out Whitey now.

My advice to anyone wanting to cut weight is to stop eating wheat/gluten products. I feel so much more alive and less poopie (literally) for ditching the gluten in my diet.

Tracey March 10, 2010 at 2:18 am

Whitey, whitey whitey!!!!!!!!
I am their new, biggest fan!!!!!!!

I love new workout music so thanks to the person that suggested it in one of the above posts.

Love it, love it, love it!!!!!!!

pilates classes los angeles November 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm

I agree that you normally get a good core work out with out actually trying to just work your core. When i was swimming, I felt like I was getting the best core work out without focusing only on core.

The Mancini February 7, 2011 at 3:41 am

Hi Rusty,

Been checking your articles for a while now, interesting stuff!

I’ve read about planks from elsewhere as well and am doing those along with free weight training so I guess I got the core thing in check.

However, have you heard of inverted planks? It’s where you lie on your back and then lift your buttocks from the ground, just a bit mind, basically you have your heels touching the ground and the other part touching the ground is your upper back. Arms can be held across the chest or at your sides or even behind the neck.

I don’t remember where I read about those but they’re supposed to be similar to planks but more toward the lower back area -ish.

I’d really appreciate it if you get the time to answer to this.

Anyways, keep up the good work!

Toni August 21, 2011 at 8:19 am

I never really thought of all the different ways that your core gets a workout like from push ups and/or running but you’re absolutely right – the core has no choice but to work hard to stablize to perform those exercises therefore it does get “worked out” whether you realize it or not. I ditched the crunches awhile ago; I never really felt anything from them except a sore neck and back. Planks have quickly become one of my favorite ways to directly work my core.

On a side note: The photo of the female’s torso that you showcased near the top of the post could seriously be me (no joke). I’ve never seen a picture of another woman’s midsection that was exactly like mine (almost eerily so). I don’t know who the woman is in the photo but we are very genetically similiar…even right down to the belly button. Weird or what?!?

Thanks for all the good information.

Ryan - Beyond Weight Loss Tips August 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Your abs get also a good indirect workout from exercises like standing military presses etc. So getting good at lifting added to the planks makes a nice set of abs..

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