Often times when I start working with new client it takes time for them to adjust to the training system and program design I am trying to implement. The training of “the core” topic is often brought up at the end of sessions by new clients. Here are a few questions and comments I always end up hearing in some way or form.
How come we did not do any core today?
Can I do some extra crunches?
I went home last night and did 500 sit ups since we did not do any abs in our session.
This is pretty common I think for lots of professionals to deal with in the field. Unfortunately we are surrounded by plenty of media hyped jackass fitness concepts and it is right at everyone’s fingertips. If you are not educated in this field I totally understand why you would take the plunge into some of the stuff you see out there. I look back at what I did my first few years of training and it is comical some of the stuff I attempted. This is where I recommend everyone should have a strength coach. Some of us like or prefer coaches for sessions while others just need the proper guidance. You need to learn and understand exactly how your body works and do what is RIGHT for YOU and not worry about anyone else. It is tough to do sometimes, especially in a fitness class setting. I get it.
I have been to many classes over the years of all varieties and nobody wants to be the one who taps out but remember the class was designed to fit a general purpose and not your individual ability. To hold a plank just because someone else is still holding the plank in a core challenge I guess can build confidence BUT unless the plank is done correctly throughout I think we are missing the purpose and it really is not that impressive if you are not engaged the whole time. There is a difference between a “rigid” plank vs someone who can “hang out” in a plank You really need to understand and acknowledge what you should and should not do. No ego, just trust science kids.
Test – Plank ( for 30 seconds make it as rigid as possible )
- Drop to a plank on forearms
- Place a pillow, yoga block, or soccer ball between your legs (squeeze the object for the whole 30 seconds)
- Pull the belly button in BUT fill the cylinder by squeezing out (you should be tight all over – front, back, sides)
- Pull shoulders away from ears. activate lats like you are holding magazines under your arm pits.
This drill is about activation, engagement, and maximizing muscle recruitment. You should be shaking at 30 seconds if done correctly. That is core training my friends.
The core is much more than just a 6-pack. The core is a collection of muscles that work together to provide static or dynamic strength to the spine through both posture and/or movement. Think of your core as a spherical container muscle that stabilizes, controls, supports, and braces in order to protect your spine and optimize stabilization and movement in all 3 planes of motion. If you need more of a visual, imagine your body without arms and legs. What is left makes up your core’s domain. Clearly, there are several muscles that are in this group. Major muscles included are the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominus, erector spinae (sacrospinalis), longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius. The core is strengthened and sculpted as a group. There is no such thing as a tight 6 pack with love handles.
S or C Posture
Most of us fall under the category of one or the other. Figuring out which category you are in will tell us what we really need to focus on when it comes to training and exercise selection. Imagine that we separated your upper body from your lower body. Now imagine your lower body is a glass of water. If your glass of water is spilling in front of you it means you are in excessive S posture and your pelvis is anteriorly rotated. If the glass is pouring out behind you odds are you are in C posture ( posterior tilt ). Either way there are specific muscles that need to be addressed for strength, length, and activation. If you spend most of your time in a flexed position then I would probably not recommend sit ups due to the stress that they can cause on the neck and back. Disc issues are common and if an exercise has the potential to cause injury to someone then that exercise has no business being part of the exercise prescription.
S POSTURE – is a tightness of the hip flexor muscles in the front part of the hip. This often occurs in combination with weak abdominals and weak glutes (butt muscles), a condition known as the lower cross syndrome. Many of you out there are forced to live sedentary lifestyle. Working in an office from 9-5 or spending lots of time traveling can produce this condition. Further causes that may lead to this posture are women wearing heels too often and men building that impressive beer belly.
C POSTURE – is as an excessive roundness in your upper back. There are several possible factors that could play into creating this from having limited thoracic spine extension, scapular instability, to Upper Crossed Syndrome – muscle imbalances including tight pecs, lats, upper traps, and levator scap and weakness in the mid-scapular muscles, serratus anterior, lower traps, and deep neck flexors. Lack of core stability can play into this as well.
Our posture is created by our habits and daily activities. We all started somewhere from the time we are born. How we grew up and what we were involved in on a daily basis was very important on how we took shape This is from sport, occupation, and whatever else we do. When certain things start to dominate our daily basis our body starts to hold that shape. I think of it as when you look at someone and know they are a swimmer or a wrestler. Over time they just develop that type of body. I advise all parents to get their kids into gymnastic or martial arts at a young age. These programs really help develop overall skill, coordination, and awareness.
Are sit ups good or bad???
I think that really depends on the individual. Most of society is dealing with some type of posture issue. If you look at the featured picture can you figure out which one you are in? If not you should have a fitness professional screen you. This can really help you find the proper way to train for yourse To say sit ups are good or bad really does come down to the individual. What I will say is there are better ways to go about training the core. Even if I give you the “green light” to do some sit ups and crunches I am certainly not giving you high doses of it. If you are struggling for the abs to pop out and you are doing 500 sit ups a day, adding another 100-500 will not get you the abs. Sorry. No chance and plenty of wasted time.
When do we add or focus on core?
The Sprinkle Effect is how you will see me incorporate core training in my workouts. Whether we are doing direct or indirect core work I believe it has a purpose in every exercise that we do. Core stability and control is needed before we get into the dynamic circus acts that we see out there. BURN does not = Results. All classes nowadays (yoga, pilates, fusion classes, etc.) have core sections which are simply used to torture and burn clients so they feel something (for me I just feel my hip flexors wanting to explode). That 3-5 minute core complex is just to pleases the masses so they come back. I also look at those who have no idea how to breathe, engage, and brace. If you cannot hold a plank, I doubt you can do a push up, and I certainly know that person should not be attempting handstand push ups with feet against the wall. Stability without mobility is dangerous. Here is how drills might be implemented into a session.
- Breathing Drills
- Activation Drills
- Correctional Drills
- Super Sets – Example – Goblet Squats + Farmers Carry or Bench Press + Hanging Leg Raise
It is pretty simple, pretty minimal, but highly effective. There are endless way to incorporate core training. The most important thing to remember are doing the correct exercise for that person and doing just enough. Overkill does nothing. Core training must focus on control and tension. Without that it is pointless (at least to me).
My favorite core exercises
There are many variations, regressions, and progressions. I advise you to watch videos, read, and educate yourself. Also the main exercises/lifts that my clients perform on a daily basis uses plenty of core. Squats and Dead lifts in all variations. Olympic Lifts and kettle bell drills rely on the core to do its job.
Planks – Many variations but remember it is about tension and control. If you cannot control the position you do not belong in the position. AND PLEASE REMEMBER It is not about time!!!! 10 minute planks?!?!? Not so much.
Hollow rocks – Another great way to work on tension, breathing, and control. Many Variations. Here is a good video from my friend Pat Flynn
Bear Crawl – From basic to some creative ways. Bear Crawls hit everything. Here is a interesting video from Mark Smith on crawling and rolling
Roll Outs – Great for anterior core. Most will need to start with a Swiss Ball. I advise nobody to start with the wheel.
Cable Chops and Paloff Press – Great drill for control that can be done from the floor to standing. Here is a great video from Eric Cressey
Carries – Suitcase, Farmer, Overhead. Carrying is great for preventing lateral flexion.
Remember we want to recruit as much muscle fiber when we do our core training. The drills above are a great way to do so and there are plenty of others. If you are doing 2500 sit ups a week or your trainer is doing long threshold overkill circuits you will continue to struggle to get the gains you are looking for.
P.S.: Abs are made in the kitchen. You can be as strong as you want but it will not be showing with a bad diet.