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Core Curriculum

Core Curriculum

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Modern core training has evolved into an amalgamation of circus tricks -- gimmicks invented to sell DVDs and training programs. In reality, the core needs simple but intense challenges to improve, not moves devised for spectacle's sake.

Forget about exhibition! Let's get back to core training that produces. Below you'll find three powerful core exercises that yield lasting strength gains.
Kettlebell Swing
People envision abs when they think "core." It's an unfortunate truth. In reality, however, the core is comprised by the muscles move and stabilize the hips and spine. These muscles work together to create and to resist movement. The kettlebell swings craft the perfect world that trains the hips to create while the torso resists.

What It Is
The kettlebell swing is an exercise that powerfully flexes and extends the hips while the torso is held rigid. Think of it as a violent deadlift, but rather than lifting the kettlebell from the floor it's swung between the legs.

At the onset, the kettlebell is hiked between the legs like a football, then violently thrown to a spot above the earth that equates shoulder level by powerful hip extension. As the kettlebell returns from its endpoint, the body is held vertical until the arms hit the torso; at this point the hips "pushed back" and flexed. This cycle continues for the desired reps.

All the while the torso is rigid, spinal movement is completely nixed.

What Does It Train?
Swings train the hips to move powerfully through a full range of motion while emphasizing the glutes during hip extension. They also train the abs to resist spinal extension whilst training the spinal erectors to resist spinal flexion.

Build a strong core that synchronizes hip and torso action and you'll reap results throughout your training, from bodyweight to barbell.

How to Use It
Swings fit nicely into warm-up routines; they also work well as an assistance exercise on a deadlift or lower-body training day. Truth is they're also a great conditioning exercise. They're as versatile as the implement used to perform them.

Do them for time or for reps. Do them with one arm or two. Most importantly, do them with good form; if your back starts to round, or you lose your rhythm, cease the set and start over.

Suitcase Carries
Any gent that's hauled his significant other's suitcase on vacation understands the value of walking with heavy loads. Add in a dash of asymmetry and you'll feel your core work like mad.

What Is It?
The exercise is simple: it's a unilateral farmer's walk. Rather than holding weight in both hands, clasp one mitt around a weight and take yourself on a walk.

What Does It Train?
Suitcase carries train the body to resist lateral flexion; the lat, obliques, rectus abdominus, back and hip musculature contralateral to the weighted hand work hard to keep the spine perpendicular to the ground. These muscles must be braced tightly throughout the exercise.

The arm holding the weight increases its grip strength and shoulder stability.

How to Use It
Like the kettlebell swing, suitcase carries are versatile and are succinctly applied to accomplish a number of training outcomes.

When done with light weight, and for short duration, they fit well into a warm-up as a core and shoulder activation exercise. Implement them with a heavier weight and a short-to-moderate duration and you've employed a great squat and deadlift assistance exercise. Carry a moderate weight over a long haul and you're doing well to build grip strength and improve your conditioning. No matter how you implement them, suitcase carries are a powerful core exercise.

Try them with dumbbells, kettlebells or, if you're up for a challenge, a barbell.  

Plank Row

Simple additions to simple exercises are often enough to blow your doors off. Such is the case of the plank row.

What Is It?
Plain and simple, the plank row is a single arm row done while holding the plank position. The non-rowing arm is posted on the elbow or on the hand, as in the top push-up position.

The row portion of the exercise is performed with a band, a rope attached to a sled or with a cable machine. Your head is pointed toward the resistance anchor point.

What Does It Train?
The plank row is an exercise in deception. Outwardly it appears easy. How hard can a plank variation be? But, in reality, it's beast of a core exercise, training the core to overcome a multitude of rigors.

Holding the plank position trains the anterior core (abs, obliques, hip flexors, etc.) to resist spinal extension; reducing the body's base to three contact points adds an element of anti-rotation training; the rowing movement perturbs the core, challenging it to hold the set position. Every core muscle is challenged, from abs to glutes and back to chest.

How to Use It
Plank rows work well in a superset with an upper-body pressing exercise. They're also great as a stand-alone rowing movement. Or simply implement them wherever your core training fits into your program.

The amount of reps is dictated by how well you're able to hold position. New to the exercise and struggling to keep your hips and back in place? Keep the reps on the lower side, from five to eight. If you can own your position, bump the reps up from eight to fifteen or so.

Silly core gimmicks aren't necessary for building lasting core strength . In fact, they're detrimental. Simple and intense trumps all. Add these three simple and intense core training monsters to your training rolodex and use them often. You'll be beasting barbells and moving strongly for years to come.

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