True Core training….It may not be what you think.
The topic of today’s post may be somewhat controversial, however we must always challenge the norm and be open to changing the things that we “know” to be true. So with that in mind, the best way to train your core isn’t crunches, it isn’t V-Ups, it isn’t hanging leg raises and believe it or not, it’s not even the mighty plank. Ok first some terminology. What is your core? Well, cut off your head, legs and arms and you’re on the right track. Abs, Core, Trunk, and Pillar all refer to the same thing, the muscles that make up your torso, from your glutes to your pecs and from your hip flexors to your traps and everything in between. So I will from here on out use all of these interchangeably with each other.
Conventional knowledge says that we need to isolate our core training as a separate body part just like the rest of the body and we should do it at the end of our training session. Well, conventional knowledge has missed the mark so badly here that, if we were to replace “core training” with “Driver training”, there would be so many accidents that we would be left with no choice but to walk everywhere. Let me explain. First, the concept of isolated muscle training is a relatively new concept when we talk about physical fitness, and really wasn’t popularized until Arnold Schwarzenegger came on the scene and body building took a mainstream spotlight. Now this is not a can of worms that I want to open right now but let me just say, if you haven’t yet read some of Grey Cooks work, do it. One of my fav quotes of his is, “Train movements, not muscles. Train patterns not parts”. More on that in a minute, but let’s get back to Pillar talk. The idea of doing a bunch of crunches to get a strong and “ripped” core might make sense to you now, but it’s time to unlearn what you have learned. Think about what your core is responsible for doing: It keeps you up-right while walking around, it helps transfer energy from the top of your body to the bottom and vice versa. It controls Spinal flexion, extension, rotation and movement side to side, among many other things. So spending hours doing crunches (spinal flexion) only trains the core in one plain of motion. But the biggest job of the trunk is one that very few people know about because it’s something we don’t have to think about. The core is reflexive. It responds to movement, to keep our bodies under control. If you slip while walking, your core helps to keep your feet under you. When you swing your baseball bat and you have to adjust to a curve ball at the last second, your core is there to help this happen or when you sit up from your lawn chair and the back support slips, your core keeps you from totally falling out of the chair (provided it’s not impaired by the margarita you are trying not to drop ;). There are so many muscles that impact your core function it is impossible to train each one individually.
So how do you train the core you ask? Well by mimicking
movements that you do in your day to day life, with precision and perhaps additional resistance. Remember, “train movements, not muscles. Train patterns not parts”. What does this mean then? Instead of holding a plank for 4 mins, hold or carry weight beside you, in the rack position or maybe overhead for 4 mins. Instead of doing 12 different variations of the crunch, try the Turkish Get-Up. I have been asked so many times “what’s the best core exercise?” and my response gets so many eye rolls is almost funny, but for the foreseeable future it will always be the Deadlift. The trick to core training is that every exercise that you do, is a core exercise. I personally haven’t done a specific “ab training session” in my own training in years! Instead, I suit case carry something heavy for 1 – 10 mins, I crawl, I roll, I do Turkish Get-Ups, I swing a kettlebell, I deadlift, I do pushups, I do pull-ups, I do overhead presses. Everything that I do, I focus a tremendous amount of attention and effort on control and “owning” every position. And let me tell you, I have never had a better “ab workout” then carrying a 60 Lbs kettlebell for 10 mins! Now to qualify the effectiveness of my training I’ll say this; As part of my job I have to do a fitness test every year and part of this test is max number of full sit-ups in 60seconds, and having not trained a full sit up, I can do over 40 in 60 seconds. I can hold the plank position for over 3 mins. I have a “strong core” by actively avoiding all of the things that we have been told to do. My time is valuable and I would rather not have to spend an extra 10-20 min at the end of my workout doing crunches and side bends to get a “complete workout”. As a disclaimer, isolating your pillar with specific exercise does have a place, but it’s more in the realm of rehab from injury or working to correct movement dysfunction.
So how do you get a sexy and ripped 6 pack? I really hate to break it to you, but it has everything to do with what you do in the kitchen and so very little to do with how many crunches you can do or how long you can hold the plank.
So when you are thinking core training, remember, walk tall and carry something heavy.
Thanks for reading