By now you probably understand that the core is everything from the nose to the toes and does not just include the superficial corset core muscles that surround your middle torso.
If we consider that the body works locally and globally, this places us on the right track to achieving a strong core. While some trainers advise clients to never perform torso crunches or curls, I believe that a set or two of well performed torso crunches, curls, lateral flexions, spinal extensions and rotations (i.e. local) are essential to ensure that the local/superficial movement muscles of the torso, actually train to move the torso. These local exercises may then be combined with more functional global exercises for the body to create a well-rounded, total body core program.
This week, let’s examine five steps to a strong core to see if you are providing your body with a solid combination of local and global movements that train you from nose to toes. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Step One – Perform two-three sets of 8-12 repetitions of torso flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion, (i.e. local exercises) two-three times per week on non-consecutive days. The concept of training the specific torso muscles locally is to encourage these muscles to move the torso through a safe and effective range of motion which is their “job”.
Step Two – Perform one-three sets of various planks, side bridges, glute bridges both statically emphasizing the deep inner core unit muscles throughout the body as well as dynamically (i.e. pushups, mountain climbers, etc.) training the muscles to stabilize during movement. As with step one, perform one-three sets of the static exercises (i.e. held for 15-30 seconds each set) two-three times per week on non-consecutive days and one-three sets of 8-12 repetitions of the dynamic exercises.
Step Three – Perform compound exercises during your program weekly which require you to train the upper and lower body simultaneously working from a tri-planar perspective engaging the body’s entire core. Examples would be knee squats with an overhead press, full body extensions, rows with dead lifts, wood chops, power squats with medicine ball throws, rope work, etc. This may also be referred to as “vertical” core training which leads us to step four.
Step Four – Standing, kneeling, or quadruped positions, even when performing traditional local muscular strength training, such as standing rows and chest flyes from a cable/pulley system, require a great deal more stabilization and balance than seated positions. Consequently, these positions, even when the specific purpose of the local exercise is to train the latissimus dorsi (i.e. the wide part of the back), require significantly more global core engagement to ensure that the body is stable and balanced. *Note: Always begin with fundamental positions and exercises, mastering those prior to progressing to more challenging positions.
Step Five – Once you have become fundamentally strong throughout the core, begin to challenge your core further by properly utilizing a stability ball, BOSU Balance Trainer, sandbags, versa logs, kettlebells, TRX Suspension Systems, Pull Up/Push Up Pros, medicine balls, etc. Adding variety stimulates the mind and body due to different global movement patterns creating a stronger total core musculature improving your ability to stabilize, balance and move.