Core Exercises - there and back again

I'm not impressed with your 100 sit-ups every night, your 3 sets of 10 on the seated torso twist machine, or your 7-minute abs. Some of those yoga poses - yes I'm impressed, actually. But Pilates, not so much.

Have you seen this article which speaks wisely about the limited role of traditional core exercises (like the billion and one variations of sit-ups, planks, bird-dogs, leg flutters, physio balling, unstable surface teetering, on and on)? More emerging research indicates that basic free weight exercises which involve some loading activate the core muscles more than anything else.

Imagine that - squats, dead lifts, overhead presses, and lunge type movements cause all the muscles that stabilize the spine to work the most. The core works more during a set of squats than with flexing, twisting, extending the trunk, doing the ab lounge, or bicep curling 12 lbs while balancing on a BOSU ball.

It's one thing if you enjoy those type of activities. But effectiveness is another matter. If you want to be strong, fast, efficient, healthy, and have sharpness to your abs, you should attempt to progress in some variation of the big basic lifts. You may skip the traditional core work if you regularly lift heavy things off the floor and over head.
just looking at it "challenges" the balance of the core... x

Nothing else makes the core work harder or amps the entire nervous system. Nothing else fills you with muscle, core and all, literally tightens the skin from the inside to create the appearance of jacked.

Got it?

[Cue sound of all the ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, and their favorite pets stampeding out with gusto to start pumping some good old fashion iron.]

Rattle-rattle, clink-clink.    
[Weight plates being squatted.]

[Dead lifts crushing the floor.]


[No one hesitates, due to deep focus, effort, and acute awesomeness.]

[Places two fingers in mouth to do that obnoxiously loud whistle.]


Okay. Thanks. Now that I have your attention, stop. Please step away from the barbell. You in the corner - drop the kettle bell. While all people everywhere wrestling iron sounds beautiful, it's actually a recipe for disaster.

Many of you, the majority even, who dive into squats and dead lifts, presses, olympic lifts and such are going to strain something. You need to feel the rhythm of realistic progression. You need to do time under the iron, practice the skill before loading up. What you also need is, well...

...some traditional core exercises.

Ugh. I still think the far majority of them are useless, really. In physical therapy I use a pool of maybe 15 to 20 different core exercises that serve nicely as regressions of the big lifts. Like what?

Before you lift heavy...

-Maybe you need to get the feel of hip movement isolated from lower back movement while doing "pointer dogs" and "mountain climbers." Maybe you need to work on side-to-side and rotational stability through chops, cuts, and rotation resisted presses. You definitely need to OWN a good hip hinge without budging at the knees or spine.

-Maybe you need to achieve a higher degree of glute activation with bridging, side plank, and leg raise variations, and capture anterior core activation during plank, push up, and roll-out variations. Maybe you need to feel your mid- and lower back muscles bracing hard during a proper (very lightly loaded) squat. Not with your back sliding on the wall. Not with your hands clutching straps or bands. Not leaning against a smith - or other squat machine. Just...hip back, chest up, squats.

-Maybe your thoracic kyphosis precludes placing a bar across your shoulder blades or pressing any decent amount of weight over head. Maybe you have a touchy lower back on top of some postural issues, so you must avoid traditional dead lifts and focus on front squats or split squats. Or maybe you have structural hip impingement and so you dead lift plenty and avoid squats altogether.

Maybe rather than one of these core stability issues, your limiting factor is impaired leg or trunk mobility.

Whatever the case, working toward a few big lifts is almost always a worthwhile pursuit. No...sorry. You probably won't be a ripped powerhouse model quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys in 3 weeks. It's going to take a minute.

But you will set the stage. And then some. And oh my, if you have the fortitude and patience, it's almost guaranteed, what's to come...


1 comment:

  1. Okay. So I first read your ankle sprain posts after finding them through google, but now after reading more I've officially decided you are hilarious. Props for the great blog.