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Conquering Core Confusion

Conquering Core Confusion
Goal: Comprehension and efficiency
Target Muscles: Abs

Core training is one of the most debated, and, hence, confusing topics in the fitness world. Ask 10 top-tier strength coaches the best way to train the core muscles, and you'll likely get 10 different answers. What's more, it seems as if the "best way" to train the core--and the abdominal muscles specifically--changes every couple of years depending on what is trendy within the fitness industry.

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When I started lifting weights back in 1993, you did sit-ups, crunches, side bends, leg raises and various twisting/torso rotation movements. That was pretty much it, and it seemed to be pretty straight forward and worked fine for most. Fast forward a couple of years, and stability balls and other "functional" tools started to make their way onto the fitness landscape, and we first started to hear the terms "core," TVA, and "draw in." This kind of "sexified" and complicated what was once thought to be rather simple: it you wanted strong abs, you hit some sit-ups, side bends, leg raises and twists.

Next came the "train the core for stability not mobility" movement, and all traditional flexion exercises (crunches, etc) were demonized and thought to be horrible for the spine. What's more, despite all these changing schools of thought, you still had a contingent of lifters and coaches who felt if you were squatting, pressing overhead and deadlifting, additional core/ab work was completely unnecessary. Finally, kettlebells became all the rage and some were (and still are) promoting the Turkish get-up as the only core exercise you really needed.

All of this is fine and good and makes for spirited conversation amongst strength coaches and trainers at seminars, but, for the typical guy looking to get strong, jacked, ripped, and actually APPLY all of this seemingly contradictory information at the gym, well ... it can be quite confusing.

I'm here to tell you it really doesn't need to be all that difficult, and, furthermore, in my opinion, no one "camp" is completely correct on core training. You can take what has proved to be useful from all the different methodologies on core/ab training and put it together in an uncomplicated and "doable" format. And I'm here to show you how.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the routine I'm going to lay out, let me give you a little explanation and overview of how I put together core training routines at my gym, FORCE Fitness & Performance (Cincinnati, OH). I break down my core routines in the following manner, and we pick one exercise from each category:
  1. Anti-Extension Exercise
  2. Anti-Lateral Flexion Exercise
  3. Anti-Rotation Exercise
  4. Hip Flexion Emphasis Exercise
  5. Traditional Flexion Type Exercises or Circuits
We typically will hit 2 good sets of exercises 1-4 (and we will alternate sets of exercises 1 & 2 and 3 & 4), and then finish things off with some type of high rep traditional flexion exercise or ab circuit.

One more thing before I get into the routine: I don't demonize traditional ab work and flexion exercises. I do feel the majority of your core work should be stability based (and that's evident in how I program), but I don't think you need to completely shun exercises like crunch variations, reverse crunch variations (these are actually quite valuable), side bends, Russian twists, etc. Go ahead and include some of this stuff. It's fun. There's nothing wrong with it (especially if core stability work is given priority) and it's not going to ruin your spine or land you in the ER if it's done with a conservative volume and frequency.

Now, onto the routine:

Note: be sure to progress in sets, reps, or load overtime

Abs Routine

1A. Stability Ball Reverse Rollout to Pike (anti extension + hip flexion) 2 sets of 10-12 reps

1B. Single Arm DB Suitcase Carry 2 sets of 40 yds. each arm (anti lateral flexion)

*alternate sets of 1A & 1B, resting about 1 minute between sets

2A. Tall Kneeling Cable Core Press 2 sets of 6-8 reps with a 5 sec. hold in the arms extended position (anti rotation)

2B. Slideboard/Valislide/Furniture Mover L Sits 2 sets of 10-12 reps (hip flexion emphasis)

*alternate sets of 2A & 2B, resting about 1 minute between sets

3. *Super Abs Circuit

  • 5 reps medicine ball crunch to shins
  • 5 reps reverse crunch
  • 5 reps medicine ball crunch to one shin (other leg straight out)
  • 5 reps reverse crunch
  • 5 reps medicine ball crunch to one shin (other leg held straight out)
  • 5 reps reverse crunch
  • 5 reps medicine ball crunch to shins
  • 5 reps reverse crunch¬†

*Add 1 rep to all of the above each workout until you are performing 10 reps of each. There should be ABSOLUTELY no rest between any of the above exercises in the circuit. To make things even more difficult, add a mini band around the feet for the one shin crunches (as shown in video).

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