The core is a complex woven areas of the body that needs a multitude of training qualities. You cannot simply do crunches, leg raises, and eat right to get the core you want. Yes, you need to eat right to have your 6-pack abs show, no argument there. Another thing that is needed for a strong core is proper training. So what do we need for a strong core and to make your abs look good? Here is what you need.
You Need To Include Loaded Carries
In the last couple of years, the loaded carry (most notable the farmers carry) has exploded on the scene. Everyone from bodybuilders to Cross fitters have started to include various loaded carries into their routines and for a good reason.
A loaded carry is where an athlete picks up and carries a heavy weight and walks with it for an extended period of time or distance. This can be done with various objects, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, stones, really any object that will challenge you to carry.
The loaded carry posses an array of benefits, most notable increasing work capacity – the ability to perform real physical work as measured by force x distance/time (which is average power). Loaded carries also help improve endurance, grip strength, core strength, and build muscle. The loaded carry is one of the best all-around movements to perform that compliments major movements, such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press perfectly.
There are many variations of loaded carries that can be used besides the traditional farmers carry (one object in each hand by your side). You can utilize unilateral carries (a load on one side of the body) to improve muscular imbalances, symmetry and core strength. The waiter carry (one arm above the head), rack carry (hand by the chest and shoulder), and the suit case carry (one arm at your side), provide a ton of strength and conditioning benefits. When you combine these three into a brutal circuit, you have muscle in minutes.
- Perform this workout 2 times per week on it’s own, or at the end of a weight training session.
- The workout will total 12-minutes (6-minutes on each side)
- Start by picking a weight (preferably kettlebell) you can carry over your head with one arm locked out and a symmetrical postural position for at least one minute.
- Once you start to lose form, bring the bell down to the rack position.
- As you get fatigued and lose form in the rack position, bring the bell down to your side for a suit case carry until you reach the full 6-minutes.
- Rest as minimal as possible and repeat the sequence on the other side.
6-minutes on each side
- 1-Arm Overhead Carry
- 1-Arm Rack Position Carry
- Suit Case Carry
You Need To Plank in Some Way
The plank may be boring and overdone, but you need to plank. It helps increase core stability and challenge your core to resist rotation and activate your deep core muscles. Here are my favorite plank variations.
ABC/Stir The Pot Stability Ball Plank
This one has to be one of my favorites! Place your forearms on a stability ball in a plank position. Start with slow and small movements with your arms as if you were drawing the ABC’s with them. Make sure that ONLY your arms are moving and nothing else, and keep your spine neutral. Always make sure to keep glutes and stomach muscles tight. As you improve go faster with bigger movements. Try doing this for 45-60 seconds. This exercise has been scientifically studied to be one of the best exercises to activate your deep core stabilizer muscles at McGill University in Canada. The leading researchers in back and core health.
Side Plank Row
Side Plank is great to engage the lateral core stabilizers such as the oblique. Ditch side bends and instead, perform the side plank row. The lateral core stability muscles are actually anti-lateral flexion, and are not made to bend side to side. It also allows us to work each side oppositely to help reduce muscular imbalances. While just holding a plank is beneficial by itself, adding dynamic movements will increase it’s benefits. Trying adding a cable or band row to increase the anti-rotary tension affect, and to increase difficulty. Simply set up in a side plank position a few feet away from a cable apparatus, or a place where you can attach a band. Maintain a neutral spine (a perfect side plank position), and then perform a rowing/pulling motion. Start with a few sets of 8-12 reps and increase tension when needed.
You Need Anti-Extension Movements – The Rollout
When most people think of the core, they think of just the abdominals. The core is actually composed of many muscles, such as the glutes, hip flexors, and oblique’s. The anterior core is where the abdominals come in. The function of the anterior core is not flexion, also know as anti-extension. If you look at the “core genius” Stuart McGill’s work, you will notice that we need to avoid so much flexion from doing crunches and leg raises, and focus more on anti-extension movements, for a healthy low-back and a strong core. By doing this, you train the abdominals hard, and improve the function, strength, and aesthetics.
If you want a REAL abdominal exercise that produces results in many areas, the rollout is all you need.
Stability Ball Rollouts
The stability ball rollout is a like a big wheel. The bigger the ball, the easier it is. Even if you think you have strong abs, start here. I have had athletes of all levels perform these in the beginning and they produced a healthier low back, and a better mind-muscle connection with the abs.
Once you can handle the stability ball, it’s now time to graduate to the wheel. This $10 piece of equipment may be the best investment that you ever make for your abs. Strive for a full range of motion on every rep. If you feel it in your lower back, start each rep by rounding your back like a cat and engage your abs and glutes as you extend out. I also like this for people who get beat up elbows from lot’s of chin-ups and pull-ups. Instead of doing sets of 10 on chin-ups, I will have them do 5 chins and then 5 wheel rollouts to save their elbows, and still build their lats.
Justin Grinnell is a strength coach, personal trainer, nutrition enthusiast and owner of State of Fitness in East Lansing, Michigan. You can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter@JustinGrinnell4 or check out his website grinnelltraining.com
Photo Credits: Jay Fuertez