You don't always need to do situps, crunches and other typical abdominal exercises to make your abs stronger and perform better. Your abdominals are part of the core, which includes your deep back muscles, hips and legs. The outer core muscles that are closer toward the surface of your body produce force and movement, while the inner core stabilizes your body and controls the speed and direction of the movement. Therefore, it's better to train your abs in ways that work both systems together to improve how you move and perform.
Throws and Power
When you throw a baseball or a heavy medicine ball, your core helps you transfer force from your lower body into your upper body. This allows to you throw farther while maintaining your balance, which you couldn't do so easily with just your upper body alone. In a study published in the February 2012 issue of "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," researchers at Indiana State University showed that the one-rep max squat test is the best predictor of how well subjects perform throwing power. Therefore, a stronger lower body allows your core to function with better coordination and power. A pilot study published in the June 2011 issue of "International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy" showed some correlation between core strength and the amount of power produced in medicine ball throws. However, researchers suggest that more research is needed to "to better define and to examine relationships to core stability." Sample exercises include medicine ball chest passes, overhead throws and standing twists. You can do these exercises against a wall or with a partner.
Kettlebell swings involve swinging a heavy kettlebell in an arc from between your legs to the front of your body repetitively. Core stability is required to maintain your balance and control of the swing to prevent spine and shoulder injuries and to generate force with your hips and legs. Throughout the swing, the core is automatically activated to maintain a neutral spine in which your spine maintains its natural curves. The rate and direction of the downward phase of the swing is controlled by your core, arms and legs.
Any overhead pressing exercises work all of your abdominal muscles, even though you may not feel them working much. These exercises include shoulder presses, kettlebell snatches and barbell squat presses. In a study published in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology," subjects had the highest abdominal muscle activation when the dumbbell shoulder press was performed in a standing position rather than in a seated position. The ab muscles also had the highest activation when the exercise was performed with one dumbbell instead of two.
- Human Kinetics: Functional Anatomy of the Core: The Abdomen
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning: Effect of Core Strength on the Measure of Power in the Extremities
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Muscle Activity of the Core During Bilateral, Unilateral, Seated and Standing Resistance Exercise
- North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: Incorporating Kettlebells into Lower Extremity Sports Rehabilitation Program
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: A Pilot Study of Core Stability and Athletic Performance: Is There a Relationship?