FREE WORKOUT FRIDAY: Core of Steel Circuit!
Core training is a really hot topic. As it should be! Having abs of steel that will protect your back, improve your posture, allow you to move lots of heavy weight safely (inside and out of the gym) and perform better in your daily activities is really, really important.
Unfortunately, most are still trying to crunch and twist their way to dreamy abs and are missing out on a much more effective way to work their mid-section.
Myth Busting: While crunches have always been the “go-to” for feeling the burn in your core, the only thing you’re really crunching are your spine and discs. All of that high volume, repetitive bending through the lower back can have some pretty gnarly negative effects on the spine. Plus, they don’t truly allow us to train strength, stability or overall performance of the core.
Plus, the core is more than just our “six pack” muscles. It includes all of the abdominal muscles, plus the muscles in the lower back, hips and pelvis (including our glutes!).
Our core has two main purposes:
1)To resist movement. Our core is designed to be strong and stable enough to prevent unnecessary movement in our mid-section to protect our internal goodies, including our spine. So core training at best is trying to maintain a neutral spine (good alignment) under a load or force that is trying to alter that position.
This is why traditional core exercises like crunches, sit ups and side-bends aren’t very effective – they involve significant movement in our spines (which can actually increase lower back issues and risk of injuries. Womp womp!)
2)To transfer force between the upper and lower body. Let’s take a dumbbell chest press or a barbell bench press for example. To do these properly and to maximize the benefits, you must use leg drive (driving your feet into the ground while pressing the weight).
The energy from that “drive” travels from your lower body through your core and into your upper body to help you press the weight up. If you have a weak core, that energy will “leak” out, and the exercise won’t be as beneficial.
At Hurst Strength, nearly every exercise we perform is a core exercise. Compound movements like squats, deadlifts, push ups and rows, challenge us to maintain good alignment and resist movement through our mid-section while doing them in order to make them as safe and effective as possible.
But when we do perform targeted core exercises, we take a balanced, multi-dimensional approach and split our core training into four categories:
- Anti-extension exercises: Training to resist arching the lower back (example: planks)
- Anti-lateral flexion exercises: Training to resist side-bending (example: side planks)
- Anti-rotation exercises: Training to resist twisting through the lower back (example: chops and lifts)
- Hip flexion with a neutral spine: Training to be able to maintain a neutral spine while bending at the hips/moving your legs. If this sounds confusing, think of a full range of motion squat or lunge –you need to maintain good alignment while moving your lower body. (Example: knee tucks)
The core circuit below will incorporate all four categories and will not only help give you great looking abs, but ones that function well in a real-world manner, while promoting good posture and alignment.
Core of Steel Circuit:
A1) Glute bridge 2-3 x 8
A2) Stability ball stir the pot 2-3 x 5-8/side
A3) Mountain climber w/pause x 8/side
B1) ½ Kneeling anti-rotation press 2-3 x 8/side
B2) Single arm farmer’s carry x 15 yards/side
Repeat A1-A3 sequentially, resting 30-45s seconds between each exercises and 60-90 seconds before starting another round, repeat 2-3 times total. Then, do the same for B1-B2.
Videos and Coaching Tips:
-Brace your core/abs and squeeze your glutes while pressing through your heels to lift up
-Only go as high as you can while using your butt to avoid arching your lower back
Stability Ball Stir The Pot (Anti-extension)
-Set up in a plank position on the ball with your elbows under your shoulders, and the back of your head, upper back and butt in a straight line
-Actively push your chest away from the ball and brace your core
-Once you’re locked into position, slowly rotate the ball in as wide of a circle as you are able to without losing your position (no movement through the spine, or hip rocking)
-Imagine a glass of water on your lower back
Mountain Climber with Pause (Hip flexion with neutral spine)
–Set up in a high plank position with your wrists under your shoulders and the back of your head, upper back and butt in a straight line
-I like to place a small roller (shown in video) on my clients’ lower backs for external feedback about their spinal position and to help keep them aligned
– Actively push your chest away from the floor, brace your core and raise one knee at a time up towards your chest as far as you can without letting your lower back round, sway or arch
½ Kneeling Anti-Rotation Press (Anti-rotation)
–Tie a thin resistance band around a rack or use a cable machine at about chest height. The further you are away from the band attachment point, the more difficult these will be
-Set up in a ½ kneeling position with both knees and hips forming 90 degree angles and your outside leg up
-Get tall, squeeze your trailing leg’s glute and press the band forward and “row” it back to you without rotating towards the band or losing your alignment
Single Arm Carry (Anti-lateral flexion)
-Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell slightly off your leg and position your shoulders tall, with your upper back tight (no slouching!)
-Brace your core to prevent your ribs from flaring upwards, and walk slowly while maintaining this position and without letting your shoulder droop or body bend to the side
Don’t be fooled by how simple or easy these movements may look! Try them out for yourself and prepare to be challenged and to feel them throughout your entire body, not just your abs!
It’s also really important for me to note that a strong core comes from the gym, but visible abs come from the kitchen (..cue the eyerolling!). Unfortunately, you cannot spot reduce any part of your body to make it appear more toned, your mid-section included. So attaining a sleeker looking mid-section comes down to losing overall body fat in order to reveal those muscles (their visibility also depends on your genetics, stress level and overall health).
Show off your steel core and let me know how you do! Comment below or give me a shout on Instagram (tag @HurstStrengthCT), I’d love to see your pics/videos!
I hope you have a fab weekend filled with plenty of laughs, sunshine and thrills!
Proper, effective core training is just a piece of a balanced strength and fitness program. If you are looking for a fun, safe and completely individualized program to help you maximize your results, look and feel better, reach out – let’s chat! Erika@HurstStrength.com