In the fitness industry it seems like everyone touts the benefits of “Core” training without truly understanding that your “abs” are only a small part of what constitutes the core. Endless sit-ups and crunches may give you a great burn, but if you’re looking for true results you need to think about your core from a different perspective.
The “core” or as I prefer to call it “midline” should be thought of as pretty much every muscle on your body that isn’t a part of your legs and arms. The abs are certainly important but need to be trained in a balanced manner along with the glutes, hips, and spinal erectors (to name a few).
The function of your “Core” is varied and includes both stabilizing the spine (i.e. Planks, Deadlifts) and occasionally acting as the prime mover (i.e. Crunches, Side bends). This is an oversimplification when you consider how dynamic our movement becomes during different sporting activities which include twisting and bending but this basic framework will help guide us in selecting appropriate exercises in order to build true, functional strength.
When looking to create true core strength consider and apply the following concepts to maximize your time and results.
1. Master basic static positions before attempting more dynamic exercises.
– Think timed plank holds or back extensions using only your bodyweight. If you struggle to hold these positions for less than 90 seconds, no need to move on to more complex exercises.
2. Balance your anterior/posterior (front side equal to back side)
– If you train your abs for 10 sets a week be sure to train your posterior chain (glutes,low-back, spinal erectors) for an equal number of sets using exercises like back extensions, glute-ham raises, superman holds, or good mornings.
3. Utilize Anti-Rotation in your training.
– Think of this as resisting a force that is attempting to make you twist or bend. This will help prepare you for “real” world activities like having to pick up awkward loads while moving or playing with your children. My favorite exercises in this category are kneeling/standing pallof presses, Turkish Getups, and “Suitcase” carries with a heavy Kettle-bell.
4. Variety is spice of life.
– After building confidence and strength in basic positions start mixing it up! This will keep your training fun and lead to continued strength gains. Tough moves like hanging leg raises, L-sit holds, windshield wipers, or weighted planks are great moves to mix into your program to stimulate new growth.
Throwing in the occasional set of sit-ups at the end of your training session won’t kill you but my hope is that you’ll think more critically about your core training and utilize movements that build real strength!