You might’ve been led to believe that crunches are the end-all-be-all key to a strong and defined set of abs.
If your goal is to maximize hypertrophy in the abdominal region (aka get a 6-pack), dynamic exercises consisting of eccentric and concentric portions, as seen in any sit-up or “crunch” variation, are surely one of the best ways to do it.
But the core and its functions offer more than just aesthetic value, and that’s exactly what we’ll be covering in this article.
Core training, from a functional perspective, works towards improving the stability of the trunk in order to effectively transfer force throughout the body, prevent injuries, and make you superhuman-strong.
When properly stiffened, the core helps generate greater limb speed and force, which translates into greater athletic performance in the gym or in the field.
Through isometric contraction and stabilization, core strength also helps minimize back pain and injuries by reducing the amount of bending through the spine when coupled with heavy loads.
A Wee Bit of Anatomy
Before we move any further, it will help to first define what the core consists of.
Thought there are many definitions of what muscles and anatomical landmarks make up the human trunk, for the purposes of this article we will stick with the following description:
The core includes all of the musculature of the torso. That includes the muscles from your hips to your sternum, through the front covering the abdominals and obliques, all the way to the back through the lats to the erectors and glutes.
The core’s action is to resist or provide extension, flexion, rotation and lateral flexion at the spine.
When we refer to core stability, we are talking about the core’s ability to resist these movements.
Think about how inefficient a squat would be if you could not maintain proper stiffness and rigidity throughout your torso.
Although you may have the lower-body strength of an ox, if you cannot properly brace and solidify your trunk, that force production will be lost somewhere up the kinetic chain instead of being transferred into the bar.
In the case of a barbell squat, the trunk is quite literally the link between the force being exerted by the legs, and the bar which we’re aiming to impact the force upon.
This helps explain, in part, why some people are much stronger on the leg press than they are with a barbell.
Core Training Done Right
Without further ado, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this thing.
These are the following categories of exercises to keep in mind when crafting a training plan for increased core strength and stability:
Anterior core exercises deal with preventing extension at the lumbar spine. These include all plank variations, roll-outs, dead-bugs and hollow holds.
Anti-extension simply means your core must stabilize the spine and pelvis to prevent excessive arching through the lower back during these drills.
– As in the ab-wheel roll-outs, tuck your tailbone in and close the gap between the lower back and the floor. Press the low back hard into the floor throughout the movement to avoid any arching.
– As you lower contralateral arm and leg, squeeze the Swiss ball inwards with the two remaining limbs to further increase tension throughout the trunk.
Posterior core exercises will improve your core’s ability to resist flexion at the lumbar spine. These include deadlifts and its many variations.
In an anti-flexion movement, your core is in charge of preventing your back from excessively rounding or curving inwards. These exercises target the muscles on the posterior of the trunk, such as the spinal erectors.
Core training that involves anti-rotation will usually place a heavy emphasis on the obliques, which will prevent your trunk from twisting. Some examples of rotary core training include landmine presses, Pallof presses, cable chops and mountain climbers.
Half-kneeling Landmine Press
Anti-fateral Flexion Exercises
Anti-lateral flexion movements prevent the trunk from bending sideways. Exercises in this category include loaded carries, such as the off-set, racked or suitcase variations.
Unilateral Racked Carry
Functional core training doesn’t have to be sexy or elaborate, it just has to work. With the knowledge of how the core acts to resist forces on the spine, challenging the core isometrically is one of the best ways to build strength, improve performance and prevent injuries.