Building a strong core is not synonymous with building a 6 pack.  In fact a 6 pack is not necessary to have a strong core!  If you’re looking for another article on obtaining a “flat belly” or how to “shrink your belly fast” then proceed to your nearest checkout and have your pick.  Otherwise, read on…

Our core refers to more than just the muscles in our abdomen (or the elusive 6-pack.)  It also involves the muscles of our lumbo-pelvic region, hips and low back.  It’s important to realize that our core is responsible for stabilization of our spine during loading (lifting) and movement and should be trained in such a way.

Therefore to properly train/build our core we’re not looking to isolate it with only crunches.

Your core serves to prevent three things in regards to stabilizing the spine: 1. anti-rotation (to keep your spine from spinning all the way around), 2. anti-flexion (to keep it from bending backwards), and anti lateral-flexion (to keep from flexing to the side). Endless crunches doesn’t train your core in the manner it was designed for.  Crunches assume our core is a prime mover, when in fact it’s a prime stabilizer.

Don’t let me lose you…

it’s really not that complicated!

If you’re at all familiar with the standard or side plank, then you’ve seen/felt anti-flexion and anti-lateral flexion at work.  Planks have long been exclaimed to be the best ab exercise because they really engage your core.  Of course this means doing them properly and keeping your back flat and not flexing or arching while you maintain the hold.

But there’s more to developing your core than a plank. 

Planks are a foundational exercise.  Bird Dogs are too and help make that mind-to-muscle connection while tapping into anti-rotation work.  Learning to brace your abs and recruit your transverse abdominals (TVA) is critical when lifting well… anything…especially during heavy compound moves (squats, deadlifts)!  Beginners should all start with foundational work and keep in mind this is not an all inclusive list. 

Like with any exercise, whether it’s cardio or weight training, the key is progression. Once the foundation is built then it’s time to advance.

TEST YOURSELF! Can you plank for a minute or longer? Then it’s time to advance!

Here’s an example of progressions over time with the plank:

Plank hold 20-30 seconds –>plank hold 30 seconds-1 minute –>plank hold 1 minute or longer –>plank hold with alternating release of one hand stretched out–>plank with one arm twisting to reach the ceiling –> same as before now reaching under the body

There’s a general rule in the fitness industry that we seek to straighten before we strengthen. This is especially important for our core since we should be learning to train primarily for stability not strength. It’s empowering to be able to cable crunch an entire weight stack but that isn’t or shouldn’t be the primary goal.

Let me put it another way..it’s not about how much you can lift in regards to the core, but about effectively activating and recruiting the abs to stabilize through various movement and load training.

Let’s wrap this up by looking at two examples below (both upper and lower body home and gym based workout) that illustrate how often our core is at work even when it’s not the primary focus. 

Example Upper Body at home workout:

Dumbbell Chest Press 3 x 8-12 (can use a bench or stability ball for added core and glute activation)
One Arm Bent Over Row 3 x 8-12 (stabilize core throughout to keep a flat back)
Overhead Shoulder Press 3 x 8-12 (engage core to avoid arching back when pressing overhead)
Tricep Kickbacks 2 x 8-12
Bicep Curls 2 x 8-12

Core circuit (can be performed as a warm up or finisher to the above):

Mountain Climbers  30 sec – 1 minute
Hollow Hold Progressions 20 sec – 1 minute (around 1:35)
plank slide tucks 20 sec – 1 minute (can be modified if needed)
repeat 1x

Example Lower Body gym workout:

Barbell Squats 3 x 6-8 (deep breath, engage core, lower and exhale on way up)
Deadlifts 3 x 6-8 (works entire posterior chain)
Dumbbell Step Ups 3 x 10-12 (engage core to maintain balance)
Calf Raises 4 x 10-12

Core circuit (can be performed as a warm up or finisher to the above):

Pallof Press x 12-15
Hanging Leg Raise x 12-15 (around 1:24)
Back Extensions x12-15
repeat 1x

 

So are you effectively training your core?  What limitations do you have to overcome? Hit me up.

STRENGTH TRAINING

Most newbies to the strength training world simply look at it (also referred to as weight lifting or resistance training) as a way to gain mass or improve strength.  Naturally with appropriate training muscles will grow and become stronger.  So it’s obvious that without training, muscles will diminish and become weaker.

Mind blown? I didn’t think so. Pretty basic stuff.  

But here’s what you may not know…

Regular resistance training  also increases strength in the tendons (these are what attach muscles to bones), ligaments (which attach bones to bones) and increases bone mineral density.  Our entire musculoskeletal system, that’s responsible for our form, stability and everyday movement, benefits!

Think about the 5 main movement patterns that we perform in our daily activities:

Bend & Lift– (bend coming from your knees, not hips!) picking up a child, lifting a case of water off the shelf/floor, moving furniture, etc.

Single-Leg–walking, running, climbing stairs, reaching high for something on a shelf

Pushing–doors, strollers, grocery carts, lawn mower, out-of-gas-car (ok that was extreme)

Pulling–pulling a car door shut, tightening a car seat strap, starting a lawn mower, moving furniture

Rotational–makes up the majority of our movement patterns from movement across the thoracic spine, think walking or reaching across your body for something.

Naturally you can assume weight training is essential for maintaining your ability to perform such daily activities, especially as we age. As mentioned above, weight bearing exercises can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis by increasing our bone density (though more research is needed to fully understand the effects/changes, but don’t let that stop you!)

BUT I DON’T WANT TO GET BULKY, YOU SAY!

Women often don’t put strength training as a priority fearing they’ll get “bulky.” This term takes on an obvious negative connotation thinking a few weeks of  some bicep curls will have them ready for a match-up against Arnold Schwarzenegger (There’s probably a better example but I grew up with the beloved 90’s Arnold movies!)

Anyways, it doesn’t work like that.

Male and female alike we have two hormones associated with tissue growth and development- growth hormone and testosterone.  Women naturally do not have the levels of testosterone that men do to build said “bulky muscles”.

But then you say, “I’ve seen women with HUGE muscles. I don’t want to look like that. I just want to tone my arms/legs/lose some cellulite”

The average rate of muscle growth per week for a male is about 1/2 pound per week or roughly 2 pounds per month. Women can expect about half that much growth! This is assuming of course you’re following a proper resistance program and eating to support muscle growth.  My point is, it’s a slow process that takes time, dedication and consistency.  If you’re still worried, then do this…when your muscles (on whatever body part) have achieved the look you want, stop progressively overloading them and maintain.  Until then, lift and lift heavy.

If you’re “soft and squishy” and want to be more “toned and defined” yet continue losing weight without resistance training, you’re only going to end up a smaller squishy version of yourself which is commonly known as skinny fat.  In order to reshape your figure you must reduce fat (cardio, nutrition, weights!) and develop muscle (progressive overload). 

YOU STILL WITH ME?

You might have read my last article on HITT or LISS and learned that HITT training burns more calories after the completion of exercise.  Same is true with weight training!  Our resting metabolic rate (RMR) increases with strength training resulting in more calories burned on a daily basis.  Muscle is also more dense than fat so the more muscle you have the more lean mass you have and fat starts to go bye-bye due to that increased caloric expenditure.  It’s beautiful isn’t it.

One quick and very important note before I end this post…

You don’t need a gym membership to get started!  Eventually, as you continue to progressively overload your muscles (which is key), you will outgrow your dumbbells and/or what you can safely perform at home.

NO EXCUSES, START LIFTING. 

Looking for help on getting started? Hit me up with an email.

STRENGTH TRAINING