“Core” is one of those words that triggers a little autocorrect function in our minds. When we hear someone say they’re working their "core", the red squiggly line appears under the word and a paperclip asks you, “Did you mean ‘abs?’”
Fitness programs, for many years, have focused on “rock hard abs” and “washboard stomachs.” Because of this, many people think the secret to a strong "core" means grinding out hundreds of sit-ups or crunches. This thought process starts early, with sit-up drills often a feature P.E class that we’d all like to forget.
And while those exercises aren’t completely useless (sorry to say, however, that any ab punisher machine you had to ring a 1-800 number to purchase is almost certainly is), "core" strength is about much more than what you can see at the beach. A strong "core"—a handy way to describe the complex group of muscles that connect your upper and lower body—can improve movement and power, balance, stability, and even help prevent back pain.
Forget the sit-ups
In other words, focusing solely on sit-up type exercises only works a handful of "core" muscles, and slamming the crunches in search of that #sixpack can actually undo other gains. “It's unwise to aim all your efforts at developing rippling abs,” Harvard Medical School advises. “Overtraining abdominal muscles while snubbing muscles of the back and hip can set you up for injuries and cut athletic prowess.”
Functional training = better living
If you’re new to Centr, or even if you’re not, you’ll notice we’re big fans of the phrase “functional training.” Functional training, or training that works on movements and strengths you need to live rather than the single-muscle, high-rep moves used for aesthetics, is essential for building a strong "core". Some simple and effective functional moves to introduce include standard planks and side planks, rollouts, walking lunges and mountain climbers.
Let’s (not) do the twist
Once you’re comfortable with those, throw in some anti-rotation exercises, which focus on stabilizing the "core" and preventing movement in the lumbar spine. The Pallof press looks deceptively simple but will soon make you long for the 100-sit-up drills of your childhood nightmares. Pull a band, or loaded cable, to tension at chest height, then—without twisting toward the tension—press the cable/band forward from your chest, hold it there, then return to your chest. Repeat until you’ve done a set of 30 seconds, then do that another two times with short rests in between.
“I’m working my core right now”
Finally, another handy way to maximize your "core" training is to throw in some ambient "core" work. If you’re on the bench for international chest day, or doing pullovers, don’t let your body go dead from the waist down. Instead, brace your core, drawing it in toward your spine, to help stabilize yourself and move the weights. Maintain this mind-muscle connection during every workout and before you know it, when someone says “sit-ups”, you’ll be able to smile like Mariah and say, “I don’t know them”.
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