Strengthening your Inner Unit

Introducing the Inner Unit and its vital role in maintaining core strength. Photo by Dave Rosenblum

Developing core strength is a must for any athlete. For the rest of us, having strong abs helps to prevent lower back pain, while increasing stability, strength, balance and coordination. A strong core is a vital component in living a longer, more active and healthy life.

Training your abs is something you can do every day, unlike other muscles that require rest in between. With a strong core your posture will improve and with correct posture, you’ll see vast improvements in your athletic performance, indeed in your daily activities. A strong core is the key in reaching those strength training and cardiovascular goals. Your body can’t perform properly if it’s weak and bent over.

The Inner Unit stabilizes your trunk and should never be ignored

There is a region of your core called the Inner Unit that often gets neglected. It has an interdependent relationship with the rest of your abdominal muscles and lower regions of your back, namely your transversus abdominis and the posterior fibres of the obliquus internus abdominis, pelvic floor muscles, multifidus and lumbar portions of the longissimus and iliocostalis, as well as the diaphragm. In plain English, it affects everything below the diaphragm and above the thighs.

The Inner Unit is by far the most important part of the core

While we have been brainwashed into thinking that doing thousands of crunches every day is the only way to a washboard stomach, the danger lies in overtraining these muscles. When the larger muscles of the abdomen are overtrained, it causes an imbalance between the inner and outer units. In effect, the inner muscles are no longer able to support the larger part of the core. Further, if you neglect to train the Inner Unit, you will be more prone to lower back pain and even spinal injuries brought on by instability. With lower back problems come debilitating pain, reduced strength and poor posture.

The Inner Unit is hard to train because it is controlled by a different neurological system than the larger outer muscles and is not often called into play when we perform crunches and other regular abdominal exercises. The way to train the Inner Unit requires more concentration than effort and it may seem that you’re not doing anything at all, but persevere and you’ll soon begin to notice a difference.

You may know this set of exercises as the 4 Point Transversus Abdominis Trainer, or the 4 Point Tummy Vacuum or if you’re into yoga, you’ll know it as the Cat Series. Performing stabilizing exercises like plank is also effective.

4 Point Tummy Vacuum

  • Starting on all fours on the floor, check your body alignment and make sure you form a square with your body – your hips sit above your knees and your hands are right below your shoulders.
  • Now inhale, letting the belly relax and fill up with air, while keeping the back flat.
  • Exhale, squeezing your tummy in towards your spine, all the way down to your pubic bone, keeping your back flat the whole time. Do not allow your back to sag and hyper-extend. This is crucial.
  • Hold this position for a couple of breaths, making sure to keep your abs engaged and your back flat.
  • Repeat from the beginning for 10 repetitions and 1 – 2 sets.
  • For ultimate effect, these exercises should be performed every day.

Planking for Strong Abs

Working your abs can be as easy as performing four simple moves two to three times a week.

plank-excersiceAll you need is to set aside about 15 to 20 minutes every other day and you’ll be standing tall and looking trim in no time. Of course, training alone won’t give you the six-pack of your dreams.

It is in the kitchen where you need the most help. So ditch the starch for whole grains, limit your sugars and bad fats, increase your MUFAs and protein and you’re well on your way.

Planking for Smooth Abs

Side Plank with Feet Elevated

side_plankTo set up the exercise, retrieve a platform that is approximately one foot off of the ground. Then position your body on its side and place your feet on the platform stacked one on top of the other. Raise your body up off of the ground and position your lower arm so your forearm is flat on the floor and your hand is facing the same direction as the rest of your body. Your upper hand should be resting on your hip with your arm slightly bent. Hold this position while making sure to keep your shoulder blades pulled back. Maintain this position and keep your body as still as possible until you reach exhaustion. Repeat 3 more sets. Advanced users can replace a platform with a Swiss Ball to increase the stability training and difficulty level.

Plank Pull-Ups

swiss-ball-jackknifeRest your legs on a Swiss Ball and get into a push-up position. There are three positions for this exercise that will change the difficulty level. For advanced people, your feet should rest on the ball; for intermediate, your ankles should rest on the ball; and for beginners, your shins should rest on the ball. With your arms full extended and palms flat on the ground, pull up your knees into your chest and breathe out. Hold for one count. Push or roll the ball back to the starting position, straightening out your legs and repeat. Focus on keeping y our back strong and avoid sagging in the middle. Perform 12-15 repetitions and 4 total sets.

Plank with Feet Elevated

elevated plank exercisePlace your feet pointing down onto a platform or Swiss Ball and position your body as if you’re going to perform a standard push-up with arms fully extended. Hold his position while maintaining steady form. Continue until you reach exhaustion and repeat for 3 total sets.



Plank with Arm and Opposite Leg Raised

alternating plankStart in a standard plank position. Then raise one leg while keeping your other limbs in place. Then lower your leg and raise one arm. Finish by trying to raise a leg and the opposite arm while holding your position until you reach exhaustion. Repeat 3 more sets for a total of 4.

Superman-Plank-Push-Up Combo

Compound exercises are your answer to working out efficiently with the most calorie burn in the least amount of time.

Featured Exercise of the WeekFor this week, we’re going to focus on a compound exercise that will engage your core, chest, shoulders, triceps, back, quads, glutes and hamstrings. Now you couldn’t ask for much more than that.

This combo exercise incorporates several moves like plank, push-ups and supermans and will require a little stamina. So, here’s what you do:

Superman-Plank-Push-Up Combo

  • Get yourself into a push-up position with straight arms and hold for 15 seconds.
  • Perform one push-up.
  • Extend one arm out in front of you at shoulder height and extend the opposite leg for a superman. Now switch sides.
  • Perform one push-up.
  • Repeat the alternating superman with a push-up in between for a total of 10 reps.
  • Return back to plank with straight arms and hold for 15 seconds.
  • Next, bend your arms to rest onto your elbows and then back up to straight arms and repeat for 10 reps each side.
  • Perform one push-up.
  • Then hold in plank for a minimum of 15 seconds.

If you’re still full of pep and want more, add a knee-up-twist at the end after your plank hold. What is a knee-up-twist? Bring one leg into your chest and then pull your knee over to the opposite shoulder to work your abs and obliques. Repeat for 10 reps each side.

Run through this combo exercise three times for maximum burn.

Best Ab Workouts

Washboard abs are the envy of just about everybody and there are so many ab workouts available that I thought we’d put our experts to the test to bring you Fitlode’s Best Ab Routines.

Best Ab WorkoutsI asked our experts to put together their best ab training programs along with a selection of the music that they find motivates them through these workouts. Each one of our experts comes from a different background and uses various ab training methods based on those influences. Each one is different and you might have to try a couple of them to find one that is right for you, but one thing is for sure – follow these routines and you’ll be closer to reaching those ab training goals.

Fitlode’s Best Ab Workouts

Core Strength Exercises for Swimmers

Building and maintaining a strong core is a must for any athlete. Man on the beach posing

A strong core aids in the strength of other muscle groups and extremities. This, of course, holds especially true for swimmers. A strong torso allows a swimmer to stabilize their motion and stroke patterns while in the water. Let’s take a look at some great exercises that will help build your core strength and are simple to perform.

Abdominal Crunch

Abdominal training is an obvious way to increase core strength. Some of the most common and fundamental abdominal workouts are great for increasing a swimmer’s performance. The first exercise mentioned will be the Abdominal Crunch. First start by lying down flat on your back. Then place your hands behind your head and raise both your head and your feet slightly off the ground. This will be your starting position. Then begin to move your upper body forward by crunching your abdominal muscles. While moving forward, pull your knees towards your core. You can also add a twisting variation to your crunch by implementing a quarter twist. This is achieved by touching your elbow with your opposite knee as you complete each crunch. Rotate the direction of the twist with each crunch you perform.

Abdominal Pike

Another simple abdominal exercise is the Abdominal Pike. Start by lying down flat on your back. Then extend your arms behind your head so that your fingertips are pointing in the opposite direction of your feet. During this full stretch position, lift both your arms and legs slightly off the ground. This will be the starting position. While keeping your arms and legs straight, raise them simultaneously until they are in a vertical position. Your legs and arms should be parallel with one another at the end position of this exercise. Perform 3–5 sets of both the Abdominal Crunch and Pike, execute each set until you reach exhaustion. Remember, you can exercise your abdominal muscles multiple times in a week, unlike most muscle groups.


Our third core exercise is a variation of a squat named the Jump-Squat-Jump. Start in a standing position, with your hands behind your head and knees slightly bent. Begin the exercise by jumping from that position. While doing so, make sure to spread your feet apart before you land. Upon landing, lower your body until you are in a squatting position. From a squatting position, jump up. While in the air, bring your feet back together. Repeat these steps from the beginning. You should perform 3-–5 sets, execute each set until exhaustion.

Medicine Ball Pass

An effective core exercise that can be performed with a partner is the Medicine Ball Pass. Start with both partners sitting back to back. The partner with the medicine ball in hand, will then twist and pass it to the other partner. The partner who just received the medicine ball, will then twist in the opposite direction and pass the medicine ball back. Make sure both partners are twisting simultaneously during this exercise. Continue this until one or both partners hits the point of exhaustion.

The Medicine Ball Pass can also be performed in a standing and kneeling position. Rotate between all three positions during your regimen. Again, perform 3–5 sets of this exercise.

Since all of these exercises mentioned will be using a light amount of weight or just your own body weight for resistance, you will be performing a higher number of reps during each set. By implementing all these exercises, you will be able to strengthen your core with minimal equipment, in almost any location.

Originally published @ FITLODE.COM