Core vs. Abs: the Smackdown

Many people are obsessed with doing abs. What they don’t know is that they should be obsessed with doing core instead. So what’s the difference?!

Abs” refer to a part on your torso. The rectus abdominus and the obliques are what are targeted when people say “abs.” Sometimes, it doesn’t even include the obliques.

Ignore the body shape on the bottom, I know he’s scary. 

So…then, what is core?

I’ll leave it to Chris to rant now.

So basically, we can look at this conceptually, as what we’ll refer to as our “abs” and then our “core.” For abs, I am referring strictly to the upper abs, lower abs, and we’ll say side abs, or–more fittingly–obliques. Then we have our core, which is much more important, and we’re going to include everything in our “mid-section” that acts as important stabilizers for strength and balance in either strength-training sessions or fully-interactive sporting sessions. So let’s break down the abs first.

Basically, as we already mentioned, we will look at and focus our workouts to our upper and lower abs and our obliques. Now, there are two major ways to workout abs when we focus a workout on them. First, is what I would think as the more common method, doing as many repetitions of as many abs exercises as we can find in magazines and online. Let’s do 3000 reps, 30 reps of 10 different exercises ten times over in an hour. I hear that one a lot, and I’ve done it a lot. 9000 reps on serious days. Will this work and will you feel it the next day? Sure, you probably will. But you could also feel some serious pain in your lower back or have a bruised tailbone if you don’t make sure that you are spot on with form and focus for thousands of reps, which is not an easy task. While you don’t need weight to train and break down those muscle fibers, it does help in its own ways. And while this is a great endurance workout that can really get your heart rate jumping, there is another way of working out those abs.

The alternative I speak of is strength training your abs. Abs are a muscle group, just like biceps, quads, lats, etc… so of course you can train them with a little extra resistance. I am not offering workouts here, just stating how I feel on this matter, but I would still keep rep ranges relatively high, over that 15-18 rep mark, going still towards 25-30 reps per set. So please, don’t take this as a suggestion to max out on an ab exercises. If I had to choose one exercise for each of our three ab groups, to do 25-30 reps while increasing my weight each set for three total sets, it would be: a kneeling cable crunch for upper abs, a weighted reverse crunch with our legs in a declined position for our lower abs, and an inverted weighted twist for our obliques.

Don’t yell at me if you do these wrong and they don’t work because I’m not putting my actual workout up for another few weeks when I’m a little more back in shape. (FYI, your obliques are a muscle group that tapers from the side of your body towards your hip area, and if you were to “bulk” these up through strength training there is a great chance that your waist size would increase, making you look thicker, just a side note) But I wouldn’t leave it as this, because I personally don’t ever do abs… EVER… I always do core, and this is why:

As a former athlete that works out not to feel good, or for appearance, but for performance, I know the importance of maintaining a strong core. I consider my core anywhere under my chest down through the upper leg. So to be in more detail, muscle groups that I hit when I do a core workout include: upper abs, lower abs, obliques, lower back, hip adductors, hip abductors, and even upper glutes. While I will isolate these muscle groups with free weights, and unfortunately on some machines (mainly for hips) , I always try to incorporate them on some heavier and more complex exercises.

For instance, when I do firemen carries with friends, it is a leg workout picking them up waking with their weight, and it is a shoulder workout holding them in place, but it is also a GREAT core workout trying to keep all those muscles in your abs and lower back tight to stabilize your body throughout the workout and prevent any injuries and accidents. Deadlifts, romanian deadlifts, and squats really require you keep that core tight and that form precise in order to target your muscles properly. Most hanging core exercises require that you do not swing so that your core finds that stable position, making you constantly work harder.

Stronger core means stronger everything else.

Someone could have a massive set of legs, but when they put that loaded bar on their back and try to squat 600 lbs, their lower back might want to snap causing them to lean to far forward and not only fail to complete a rep, but also potentially and likely hurt themselves. Watch the crossfit fails video on YouTube and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Crossfit will be a serious rant post, and total immersion swimming, but back on track.

And remember, my favorite way to work out core is integrate it into something FUN, like sports. Rock climbing, swimming, soccer, frisbee, football, baseball… really any sport at any competitive (meaning people are actually trying) level is an amazing core workout, and you don’t even have to count reps, because it’s so integrated in what you’re doing. One of the recommended doctors that contributes to Men’s Health in some issue over the past few years said his favorite lower back workout was pickup soccer (we’re in the US :/). Strengthen that core!!! Abs will come naturally if you do.

And finally, since this is all over the place, and I think I hit most the points I wanted to… if you’re trying to go from not having any visual abs in a pack to a certain goal like a six-pack you need to consider everything. In no particular order…

  • Build the muscles through strength training so that they are there and defined, wanting to be seen. 
  • Cut the fat covering those nicely defined muscles through PROPER NUTRITION (SO IMPORTANT!) and fat burning exercises (CARDIO TO THE NEXT LEVEL) so that you can see those nicely defined muscles that you built through strength training.
  1.                   a. Proper nutrition means stop eating garbage. I’m not asking you do some silly diet like cut carbs completely. Just eat  healthy, and if you don’t know what that means, then ask.
  2.                   b. Fat burning exercises doesn’t just mean putting on three sweaters and hitting the elliptical. Sweat all you want, a lot will just be water weight. Seriously, get a trainer or join a class where someone can observe you if you have any health concerns and go to a point where you want to throw up. But do not be reckless, always stay in control. It’s all about confidence.

Do what you need to do in order to strengthen that core and look and feel how you want.

14 Responses to "Core vs. Abs: the Smackdown"

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  1. wartica

    September 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    My main focus is to get my torso more up to par because the abs are there !

  2. threeculbersons

    September 19, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Great post!!! I whole-heartedly agree! Stronger core translates in to every aspect of your life, from posture, daily activities and performance related sports.

    • hungryandfit

      July 22, 2015 at 7:19 pm


  3. fightagainsthemuffin

    September 20, 2012 at 2:11 am

    thanks for this post! I’ve been focusing on my core lately and needed more insight.

    • hungryandfit

      September 20, 2012 at 7:51 am

      You’re welcome 🙂

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  5. Paul Grignon

    October 17, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Good post! I agree with you, about the Core. That remains paramount. I like to mix it up with a lot of different sports, as well as weights…and doing abs. Thanks for some fine insights.

    Take care,

    • hungryandfit

      October 18, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Yes! Sports, such a great (and FUN) way to incorporate a wonderful core workout

  6. the firm ab workout

    November 25, 2012 at 7:55 am

    It’s an remarkable piece of writing in favor of all the internet viewers; they will obtain benefit from it I am sure.

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  8. Neil

    November 18, 2013 at 1:44 am

    I really don’t like the word core. I am not an apple 🙂

  9. EddieTheBarsteward (@EddieTheBarstew)

    July 20, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    bottom line is that a deeply cut six-pack is usually a sign that the deep core is weak in proportion to the r-a – that’s why few contact sports participants have one.