With all of the buzz around the use of functional, total body exercises, targeted abdominal exercises have taken a back seat in the exercise programming of many strength coaches and personal trainers.
Sure, the core is important, but by working with total-body moves, trainers and coaches argue that the core is being worked constantly throughout the workout, negating the need for isolation work like crunches. For most lifters, this may be a welcoming change to the end of their routine, as plenty of guys prefer to hit the sauna rather than lie on the mat and rep out some crunches.
But can these total-body exercises really replace dedicated core training? Likely not.
The notion that total-body exercises can simulate a tough core workout comes from their ability to challenge the core for stabilization of the spine. During a heavy exercise, like a squat for instance, the weight puts a load on the spine. In order to protect the lifter from injury, the core muscles fire simultaneously to lock the spine into a neutral position. This contraction, referred to as an isometric contraction, can be extremely demanding, especially in exercises like a deadlift where core strength is imperative for proper form.
However, don’t ditch the dedicated core training just yet. Tony Gentilcore, strength coach and co-owner of Cressey Performance, advocates the use of compound lifts along with specific midsection work.
"I think it's a bit shortsighted to say that the only core-specific training someone needs is to focus on heavy compound movements," he says. "While those lifts will almost always give people the best bang-for-their-training buck, there are plenty of people walking around with impressive squat or deadlift numbers who have a woefully weak core."
Don’t eliminate core exercises from your routine entirely. Rather than focusing on exercises like crunches that move your spine, Gentilcore advocates the use of exercises that focus on "anti-movement," like planks, side planks, and roll-outs.
"For me, it's all stability; or preventing un-wanted motion," he says. "The main 'function' of our core musculature is stability."
Continue to build your routine on total body lifts to emphasize the integration of the core with the rest of the body for maximum strength. Rather than spending hours working solely on your abdominals, toss one or two core moves in at the end of your routine as a finisher and let your routine (and diet) take care of the rest.