Everywhere you look over social media you seem to see flat tummy’s and chiseled abs. The conception is usually that when someone has these rock hard looking abs, they are super strong and can perform powerful feats of strength.
Unfortunately the look of abs does not always correlate to strength. Having aesthetic abs and having a strong core are two different things, which get mixed up a lot. People tend to think that doing sit ups and isolated ab exercises will get them those ripped abs and give them a ‘strong core’. Both of those assumptions are not quite right.
We all have ‘ab’ muscles. If they’re not quite visible yet, it just means that there is a layer of fat on top of them, covering them up. The leaner you become, the more visible the abs become. So yes you can perform sit ups and a whole range of isolated (weighted or not) ab exercises to strengthen/condition them and develop the ab muscles.
This can help to build them slowly and shape them, but for the most part they are shaped already and do get strengthened when you perform other compound exercises. In order to ‘have’ abs or to get them showing, you need to lose fat by eating right and exercising, in order to drop that layer of body fat covering your abs. Isolated ab exercises alone will not do much for an overweight person.
Your ‘core’ is a range of muscles that you use when doing certain things or exercises such as pull ups, push ups, planks, and the list goes on. The common factor in these exercises is that not one, but a range of muscles are used to perform the exercise effectively and efficiently. It is not just one muscle, or one set of muscles per say.
For instance when you do a plank, or a handstand, people always say “engage your core,” but most people have no clue what exactly that entails. In simple terms, it means to contract everything, as you need to be one solid structure from head to toe. You need to squeeze your butt, contract your thighs, (point your toes in the case of a handstand), (squeeze your chest together, in the case of a plank), pull your tummy in (and imagine pushing your belly button as far back as you can).
Now that is what is meant by engaging your core, where everything (your whole body structure) is tight and contracted as a whole. This helps with so many aspects like balance and control, and remember it takes time and practice. At first it can be quite difficult to try to focus on contracting everything at once, but keep at it and it will come. Try to focus on just 2 muscles at first, then add the next one and the next one till you can tense them all together.
So ideally you should prioritize core training as this will help with so many other exercises and it will train your abs as well, so it’s really a win win!