You can pave a lot of different roads in your journey to obtaining a solid core.
Most lifters take the approach of slapping several strength based abdominal exercises onto the end of their workout.
You know what I’m talking about.
Those marathon sets of standard or heavy cable crunches may get you closer to your goal of visible abs, but they’re doing nothing to help you accomplish your other fitness related goals.
Most people forget your core maneuvers your whole body in several different planes of motion, and it also consists of several other muscle groups other than the abdominals.
Think about it, your back and glutes (even your upper leg muscles) are just as much a part of your core as your abs are.
That, my friend, is why I encourage you to take the road less traveled.
Below you’ll find 4 different core workouts, each of which will involve unique forms of core training.
Since life is full of surprises and your core contributes to every facet of life, it’d benefit you to perform all 4 of these workouts in a progressive manner.
Most lifters completely forgo stability core training and head right for strength based flexion training. To use an overused analogy within the fitness industry, “why would you start building a house before laying the foundation”?
By going straight into flexion training (and only training in that manner as most do) you’re missing a huge piece to the core-building puzzle. Sure, contracting and extending the core will build muscle (the superficial goal we’re all after), but it does nothing to enhance your cores ability to stabilize.
And why is a stable core so great? Because not only is the core the main stabilizing muscle group in both the squat and deadlift, but it also keeps you in a more up-right posture while standing and sitting throughout the day.
A more stable core and better posture equates to less back pain (or reduced risk if you don’t experience any), which in turn, leads to a decreased risk of injury while strength training.
So, if you’re ready to experience the benefits of a stable core, add this workout into your current program. You’ll be surprised to notice substantial gains in your compound lifts, especially if you’ve only been knocking out sets of crunches for quite some time.
Also, if you’re new to core training, start off here and try to perform this workout 2-3 times a week until you feel comfortable incorporating the remainder of the workouts into your week.
|1. Plank||3-5||20-30 seconds|
|2. Side Plank||3||20 seconds|
|3. Lying March||2||6-10 each leg|
|4. Glute Bridge||2||12-20|
Why Flexion Training?
Flexion core training gets a bad rap among fitness professionals and it’s not really the form of training’s fault. Most lifters abuse it, because it’s the form they’ve seen performed most during their life.
There’s nothing quite like an "80s Rocky Training Montage" full of situps (either from a supine position or hanging from the rafters of a barn in Moscow). Unfortunately, when applied to every day training the result is far from a late round heroic knock out punch or win by decision.
Instead, due to our lack of stability training, our increased sedentary lifestyle, and now these marathon crunch sets, we develop all sorts of muscle imbalances (and back pain).
However, if you approach core training the right way and you've practice stability training for a couple of weeks, you should be ready to progress into strength based flexion core training.
Give this workout a shot as a progression to workout 1, but still include the first workout into your weekly training at least twice a week.
|1. Stability Ball Crunch||3||12|
|3. Reverse Crunch||2||12|
Why Loaded Carries?
Next up is an unsung hero of core training. Loaded carries involve total body cooperation to get heavy weight from point A to point B. It’s an intermediate to advanced tactic, so be sure to progress into this form of training only after you're comfortable with stability training.
Three forms of loaded carries that I absolutely love are: Farmer’s carries, suitcase carries, and waiter carries. For farmer’s carries, you’ll want to pick out a set of dumbbells that when added together equates to your body weight.
Carrying them for a set distance involves complete concentration and control of your whole core. Not only that, if you lack grip strength (as I do) it will work wonders and have a very positive carry over into your ability to increase your deadlift PR.
Suitcase carries are very similarly executed. However, you’ll want to only use a single dumbbell and have it equate to half of your bodyweight. This one is an absolute burner and will assist you in developing strength in your abdomen and obliques as you fight to stay upright.
Finally, for waiter carries, you’ll want to pick out a weight that is approximately a quarter of your body weight (don’t be afraid to start out lighter, these are tough!). Hold the weight overhead as you’d imagine a waiter would carrying a plate of food from the kitchen to your table. The amount of core strength this exercise builds is surreal.
Each of these carries will help you when it comes time to put up bigger numbers in your compound lifts, but also in your physical appearance, as the heavy workload is going to have you burning cals like crazy.
Try sprinkling in the workout below once you’ve mastered the other two. When you get to this point in your progression, perform workout 1 twice, workout 2 once, and workout 3 once each week.
|2. Suitcase Carries||3-5||Distance*|
|3. Waiter Carries||3-5||Distance*|
*Distance will vary based on experience level. Start off with 20 yards or the length of the gym and try to increase each week.
Last up in this Concrete Core workout progression comes the power phase. In the power phase, you’re going to begin incorporating powerful throws using the medicine ball.
As loaded carries take stabilization training to the next level, this power phase is going to take flexion training to the next level. It will also implement a lot of training in the transverse plane of motion and help you build solid obliques.
Grab a medicine ball and for the first exercise, standing with your feet perpendicular to the wall, emphatically (but under control) toss the ball from your hip (furthest away from the wall) to wall. Pick it up and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
For the other power exercise, bring the medicine ball overhead and in one fluid motion, slam it into the ground with as much power as you can muster.
This is the form of core training most commercial gyms hate to see for fear that you don’t know what you’re doing and might break something. But the truth is, it works.
Once you’re comfortable with all of the other forms of core training, add this one into your weekly program and perform each workout once a week.
|1. Med Ball Wall Slam||5||10 each side|
|2. Med Ball Slams||5||10|
If you want a strong, balanced, and shredded core, you have to train more ways than one.
Most lifters will stick to their comfort zone when training their core. However, it’s important to nix flexion training until you have a stable core.
And once you’ve got stability core training down, loads of gains will soon be made with the multiple forms of core training you can begin to use.