If you’ve missed any of the previous installments in our Strength Training Staples series, you can find their links below:
Today, we’ll be covering core exercises. We’ll discuss how the core impacts posture, movement and performance. We’ll also offer up a several examples of exercises you can use in your program to create a well-rounded core workout.
When I speak with people about “core strengthening”, they often use the term synonymously with strengthening their rectus abdominis (the superficial 6-pack we might see if we’re really lean). However, our “core” is more than just our superficial abs. All of the muscles that attach to our pelvis and spine are core muscles, and we must think about strengthening this unit as a whole if we are to improve our overall strength, performance, posture and movement quality. While our abs have a role to play, a host of other muscles exist to provide stability, transfer energy and resist rotation and extension. In short, your core plays an important role in nearly every movement you make.
Achieving a lean look is a noble goal. I certainly would encourage everyone to be as healthy as possible, and body composition (the percentage of body fat to lean tissue) is an important marker for health. However, there is a cost – much greater than extra crunches and sit-ups – that goes with being lean. You must decide if you’re willing to pay it. Unfortunately, people sometimes believe that a little extra work in the gym or a slight change in their diet will deliver the result they seek. They often wind up disappointed, and in some cases, turned off from the healthy habits they worked so hard to establish. When you establish a fitness goal, be informed about the work required to achieve it, and be prepared to alter your strategy if things stagnate.
Results may vary…
As I mentioned above, your core plays a role in nearly every movement you make. Don’t believe me? Here are some examples:
He must work out…
These are just a few examples of how our core plays a role in everyday movement. Because the core is an essential part of movement, we have a variety of ways in which to train it.
My first suggestion to anybody with a desk job (and everyone else!) is to eliminate sitting from your workout. Virtually any exercise that can be done sitting, can be done standing. This change alone will go a long way toward improving core strength and function. Primary movements like squats and deadlifts are excellent for core strength, but these alone don’t get it done. Because we naturally tend to include more core exercises that create force (like sit-ups or cable chops), my focus today is on “anti” movements, or those that resist force. We have three categories of anti-movements and I’ve included two exercises for each one:
Anti-extension: As I mentioned earlier, we often focus on our core by doing trunk flexion exercises like sit-ups and crunches, but in practice we need our core to resist extension of the trunk.
Plank – Rather than hold for time, hold your plank for a breath count (5-8 breaths), where you’re taking a full breath in through the nose and a full exhale out through the mouth (like you’re blowing up a balloon). Each breath cycle should take about 4-5 seconds. Be sure to keep your abs braced and your glutes tight. Tension is your friend.
Fall Outs – Far more dynamic, the fallout requires you to resist extension as your body lengthens. Your end point occurs before you hit hyperextension of the lumbar spine. Should you feel any pressure in your low back, shorten the range of motion. As you get stronger, your range of motion will increase. Again, tension is your friend.
Anti-rotation: Similar to the above, we already know that we need our core to create rotation (the golf swing example), but often neglect movements that resist rotation.
Pallof Press – One of my go-to core exercises, we use the band (or a cable machine) to create a rotational force which we resist. Be sure to pause at the top of the movement and allow the band to apply tension inward. If you move too fast or with too little resistance this cannot happen. Keep your hands on a straight line from your chest – do not let them move inward. To increase the tension use a thicker band or step away from the attach point.
Kettlebell Pull Thru – By keeping your hips level as you pull the kettlebell from one side of your body to the other, you resist rotation. If I put a ball on your lower back, the ball should not roll off. If this is too difficult, try shoulder taps
Anti-lateral flexion (carries): I absolutely love incorporating carries into my weekly workout because of how practical they are. We all carry groceries or move things from one place to another. As we do, we need our core to stabilize us laterally, keeping us upright so we’re not leaning forward or to one side.
Farmer Walks – Be sure to keep your torso erect and keep your core muscles active and engaged throughout the entire carry. Keep your back aligned and lift the weight from your hips as you begin. You can use plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, small children…the list is endless.
Kettlebell Bottom-up Waiter Carry – The offset nature of this exercise really emphasizes core stability and activation on the opposite side. Be sure to stay in alignment by not allowing your torso to flex toward the weighted side. You’ll get a nice grip challenge here too.
As you can see, we have a variety of ways to train our core. Mix things up by including core strengthening exercises that provide both a practical and a dynamic challenge. At Vitalifit, we create challenging full-body workouts by using these and many other strength training movements. Whether you’re a novice who’s just learning to strength train or a more seasoned lifter who’s in search of new challenge, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.