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There are many benefits of a strong and toned abdomen; better athletic performance, improved posture, increased libido, higher self-confidence and improved balance.  

The real work to showcase your abs is done in the kitchen; some say, nearly 90%.  More on that later.  As it relates to exercise, I believe that core work is a three legged stool.  It is not just 100 crunches on a mat at the end of your cardio work out. There are three components that are equally important... and why HIIT style training is so productive.

Cardio --- Balance --- Strength

Cardio burns calories and sheds weight. So, those 30 minutes of running are helpful and certainly fire up your core to stabilize you as you move across various elevations and surfaces; especially in sprinting and hill work. However, my advice is that that cannot and should not be all you do if you want to reach your goals.  

I am a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) style instructor who loves to enter sweat bucket training sessions as much as the next cardio junkie.  How I accomplish these massive sweat-producing/high-calorie burn workouts is through bursts, where you push heart rate and strength for short(er) periods of time, over and over again.  Endurance comes into play as you add one tough drill to the next to build a workout.  HIIT workouts that are composed of many full body and compound moves rely heavily on core strength and are key in developing abdominal strength and definition.  

When I am teaching a workout, my first cue for nearly every move would be addressing your abdomen and back.  Any type of jumping move draws a lot of power from your core… try this exercise… leave your belly loose and try to do an exercise like high knees or squat jumps.  Now try them with your abdomen engaged. You get half the power when you don’t activate your abdomen. 

If a strong core improves balance... then one might assume that exercises that involve balance improve your core strength as well? Just one of the many reasons yogis have such great rock hard abs! They are constantly working to improve balance and stability, calling on core muscles to make it happen.

Because I am HIIT and strength training style instructor... and not a stability work involves objects that make your "floor" uneven and unbalanced or balancing on your hand or a single leg.  The BOSU is a great piece of equipment for balance work, in addition to single-leg lunges and side planks.  Again, try this exercise… leave your belly loose and try to do an exercise like a side plank ... it's nearly impossible to do without a drawn in the abdomen. 

The final component to building a strong core is in strength training... this is where weighted sit-ups come into play. To improve abdominal tone, definition and strength require weights, resistance, isolation of core muscles and increased repetition. Two major measures of physical fitness are muscular endurance and strength. Endurance is time/number of reps you are able to perform, strength being the power/weight you are able to lift and move.

If your performance, posture, balance, and self-confidence are improved by a strong core, why would you end your workout with just a few crunches on the mat?

Instead, let's start with core work and let it weave through your workout. 

Guest blogger Ivey Gaskin Baker, CFP® is the business development manager for a family-owned asset management firm.  She has spent nine years teaching group fitness part-time in various studios across North Carolina from Appalachian State University to YMCA Charlotte.  Through Ivey Baker Fitness, she is now advocating wellness using various channels outside of the studio, teaching individuals how to exercise with minimal equipment out of their homes.

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