Most of us know that a strong core is vital to almost every physical activity, right? But how do we get a strong and functional core? While having a six-packs might look nice, visible abs are not a reliable indicator of performance ability, or injury resistance.
Core Training Facts & Myths
Did you know that crunches aren’t the best way to train your abs? Exercises like crunches and sit-ups place repetitive stress on your spine in a flexed position, which can lead to bulging and herniated discs.1 If you sit at a computer for any amount of time throughout the day, the last thing you need is more time in a flexed (or rounded) spinal position. In fact, spine specialist Dr. Stuart McGill is on a crusade to eliminate the sit-up.
Maybe you’ve heard that you don’t need isolated core training if you do compound strength exercises like deadlifts and squats? There are certainly a number of reputable strength coaches that ascribe to this ideology. While it’s true that you don’t need to perform core training, I believe some extra core work can be incredibly beneficial.
The Right Way To Train Your Core
This core training workout is a 10-minute circuit designed to build an indestructible torso. You’ll be challenging your abs in a functional way by working your core from every angle, instead of just working rectus abdominus (the 6-pack abs). This entire workout is focused on challenging your muscles to keep your spine stable through varying loads.
Before trying this workout, you want to make sure you have proper core stability, or the ability to brace your spine as you move your limbs, before attempting these core exercises.
Core Stability Test
The dead bug is my go-to core stability test. Can you do this without arching your lower back and flaring your ribs?
If so, you have some decent core stability and can move on to the workout below.
If have any pain or can’t perform this exercise well, I would NOT recommend doing this core workout. Instead, perform core stability exercises, like plank and bird dog.
4 Types of Core Exercises
As I mentioned earlier, this workout trains the primary function of the core to stabilize the spine. What does this mean in terms of how the body moves?
This workout includes 4 exercises – each designed to challenge the core in different ways including anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-flexion, and anti-lateral flexion.
1. Anti-extension refers to preventing overarching the spine, especially in the lower back. Any kind of plank exercise is an anti-extension exercise, as you try to maintain a rigid torso without arching the lower back.
2. Anti-rotation refers to fighting rotational forces placed on the spine by keeping the shoulders and hips square. Any variation of the Palloff press (seated or standing) is an example of an anti-rotation core exercise.
3. Anti-flexion refers to limiting the rounding (or flexing) of the spine. A goblet squat or deadlift fits this category, since your focus is on maintaining a long spine as you bend from the knees and/or hips.
4. Anti-lateral flexion refers to fighting leaning to the side when unilaterally loaded. Side planks and any one-sided carries are examples of this type of core exercise.
If you train your core to stay strong and tall through those 4 patterns, you will build a stable, bulletproof core. This workout is best performed at the end of a strength training session.
Core Workout Instructions
Perform this workout as a circuit, with little rest between exercises. Complete a total of 2 rounds.
|Exercise||Reps / Time / Distance|
|RKC Plank||30 seconds|
|Pallof Press||10 reps each side|
|Goblet Squat (hold)||10 reps|
|KB Suitcase Carry||50 yards each arm|
Core Exercise Demonstrations
1. RKC Plank
This is a variation on the standard plank position where you brace your abs while supporting your bodyweight on your elbows and toes. The RKC variation increases the intensity by placing the elbows slightly narrower than shoulder-width (narrower base = more difficult) and the forearms out in the front of the body (longer arm lever = more difficult).
2. Standing Pallof Press
Set up a resistance band so one end is wrapped around a sturdy base just below chest-height. Stand sideways a few feet away from your anchor so that your inside shoulder is lined up with the post. With a slight bend in your knees, press the resistance band straight ahead. Your goal is to keep your core braced and fight the pull of the band as you press the band straight out in front of your chest. Don’t let your shoulders or hips rotate!
3. Goblet Squat
The goblet squat is a versatile exercise. It improves hip mobility, activates your quads, and challenges your core. The focus here is anti-flexion. Start with a moderate weight and take 5 seconds to slowly lower in a deep squat. Hold at the bottom for 5 seconds. Stand up tall maintaining a strong neutral spine throughout the entire movement. Keep the kettlebell, or dumbbell close to your body as you squat up and down.
4. KB Suitcase Carry
The suitcase carry is one of my favorite loaded carries. This exercise challenges anti-lateral flexion while simultaneously emphasizing shoulder and hip stability.
Grab a moderate to heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and start walking. Maintain tall posture and avoid leaning towards the side with the weight. Walk about 50 yards, then switch hands and do the other side. Most guys can start with about 40-70 lbs, ladies can start with suitcase carries around 30-50 lbs. A solid goal is to work yourself up to half your bodyweight in each hand.
This workout is an intermediate level workout. As I mentioned in above, make sure you have good core stability before performing this workout. Let me know how you do with this workout and feel free to share any of your favorite core exercises below.
- Williamson E, White L, Rushton A. A survey of post-operative management for patients following first time lumbar discectomy.Eur Spine J. 2007;16(6):795-802. ↩
Excellent resource! I love your posts, Nick! Thank you.
You are very welcome Sonja, good to hear from ya. Thanks for the comment!
I am 62, with arthritis prettty much everywhere. I have read that deep squats should be avoided, as they are hard on your knees. I have rather confirmed this with my own personal pain-o-meter.
Is there a way for seniors to get benefit from the goblet squat?
Hey Bob, deep squats are actually a natural movement pattern, they may cause pain to your knees when you do them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad for everyone’s knees. The natural way for humans to defecate is in a deep squat position. With that said, it may not be a good idea for you to do any squats, it’s hard for me to say without doing a thorough assessment. With some of my clients who have trouble squatting, I avoid them completely (which is very typical), or do squats on to a bench, or plyo box. It’s ok if you don’t want to squat with weight, staying active and mobile is more important in my opinion!
Hi Bob, I couldn’t agree more with Marc above. If it’s causing you pain, don’t do it. Deep squats with proper form can be challenging for even fit people half your age, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Have you tried to do a squat with a TRX where you can offload some of your weight onto the TRX? That should take some stress off your knees. Keep us posted Bob!
Excellent program for core work out mentioned above. Easy to follow.
Only not very clear how to do “Standing Pallof Press”. How long should I hold to the position as the instruction say 10 reps. Or we dont need to hold, just continue with the reps. Thank you very much.
Thanks Manjit. Ok, great question – will the Pallof Press you want to focus on slow, controlled reps. Keep your torso braced and count for 2 seconds as you press your arms long. Pause for a split second and then bring the hands back into your body for a count of 2 seconds. Do that for 10 reps. That make sense? Hope that helps..