Right now I want you to stand up and try to touch your toes and then stand back up. OK, now, twist your torso back and forth…Take your right hand, reach towards the sky and then bend your body to the left..Try and do a full squat…Do a sit up, push up, jumping jack, jog or even walk a little bit. Hey, just try and get up out of a chair, bend over to pick up your kid or simply just try and get out of bed. Know what was an essential body part for all those movements? Yep, you guessed it, your Core. The problem is most people do “crunches” to build core strength or sadly do nothing at all. We think the core is just the abs and forget about the obliques (love handles), glutes (butt), the muscles surrounding your spine and that little muscle just above the rear end called the Quadratus Lumborum (lower back).
Question: If the core muscles are such a vital part of almost every movement in life, why do we ignore it? Answer: I have no freaking clue.
OK, maybe I have some idea. Personally, I was ignorant of the importance of core strength (even though I had been told over and over again) and to be really honest, core exercises suck. Planks are not fun, yoga is boring to me, palates seems like a chick exercise, crunches hurt, back extensions make me dizzy, and there is nothing more humiliating than being over weight and trying to do situps around a bunch of skinny people. Seriously, screw that 170 lb guy who can do a billion situps and pullups with ease. Let me throw an additional 50 lbs on your back and see just how easy it is. Anyways, humiliation aside, working your core is probably the singular most important exercise you can do. Without core strength your squat will suck, forget about dead-lifting, you will suffer while running, you’ll have a weak forehand in tennis, you won’t have power in your drive and you will struggle doing everything else I listed above. Ever wonder why bending over hurts or why you have lower back pain?
So, how do we fix this problem? Well lets first talk about what your core is. Your core can be defined as- The girdle of muscles, bones, and joints that links your upper and lower body. Sounds pretty important, huh? Here’s a picture for you visual people:Do you think just doing a few crunches a couple times a week will adequately strengthen all those muscles? Of course not. Building core strength, just like any other movement, takes time, repetition, and dedication. One of the reasons I love CrossFit so much is how they incorporate core building exercises into every workout. Most of the time without you ever knowing. When I first started CrossFit my squat and deadlift sucked because I “had a bad back”. Wanna know why I had a bad back and use to hurt it while just working in the yard? I’m not gonna answer that cause you already know. Alright I will….CAUSE I HAD NO CORE STRENGTH.
Did you know that doing body weight squats is a great core exercise? How about Kettle Bell swings? Pull-ups? Push-ups? Sprinting? Dead-lifts? Power Cleans? All these movements work the entire core unlike just doing crunches. You know what doesn’t work your core? Isolation exercises that lock your lower body into a fixed position like bicep curls, tricep pull downs, lat pull downs, shoulder press etc. Try doing these workouts standing up and ENGAGE YOUR CORE.
For you people who don’t like heavy lifting (compound) movements below are a few core exercises you should automatically add to your routine. Start out with 3-4 sets of 10, 3-4 days a week, then progress the reps to about 20-30. Once there start adding weight or resistance.
Get in starting position and hold for as long as you can. A more advanced movement would be to start in this position and then alternate dropping down onto your elbows and returning to the start position.
The Air Squat
Notice the knees tracking just above the toes, the straight back and head up. Make sure not to bow the back or lean to far forward. If you struggle with form try this exact movement but sit on a box or chair. Remove the chair or box after a few weeks. Here’s a great video showing good and bad form.
No image for this exercise. Just get on a treadmill or on a straight track or road (or even a hill) and just run….fast. Here’s a video showing proper sprinting form. (yes there is a right and a wrong way to run)
Notice the straight back at the top of the movement but a slight curve at the bottom.
Notice the knees out to the side creating the “butterfly”. The only thing I will add is that at the top of the situp don’t round the back like the image shows. Keep the back straight through the entire movement. For beginners, start with anchoring your toes.
Couple of final random thoughts:
Engaging your core is not “working” your core. Example: While doing bench press your core is engaged but not directly worked.
Just cause you don’t have a six pack doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong core. I certainly don’t have a six pack but my core strengthens every day.
Try to move away from isolation exercises and progress into more compound movements. They work more muscles and make for a more efficient workout.
Ab workouts suck. Get over it.