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Real Core Work
By Blair Morrison   View more articles by this author
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November 09

Training your core has been at the heart of countless fitness programs lately, so chances are you’ve read or heard something on the subject.  Therefore, I won’t pound you over the head with regurgitated arguments about spinal stability, length/tension relationships, or the importance of muscle connectivity in the pelvic floor.  Suffice it to say, IT’S IMPORTANT.  Without building a strong internal core (read: the muscles you can’t see) you will lack the necessary base of strength, balance, and coordination to reach your goals and you will risk serious injury.  Working these muscles is not glamorous or enjoyable, but it is essential.

Let’s talk exercises.  Don’t get discouraged, but if you’ve been spending 10 minutes at the foot of your bed doing sit-ups every morning, you’re not getting it done.  Floor crunches, bicycles, supermans, etc. are all great exercises, but they’re isolated movements that target only the external musculature.  To do REAL core work you need to get your butt up off the floor and engage the deeper muscles.

If you’re doing some occasional isometric planks and bridges, you’re on the right track.  Suspending and supporting the length of your body is a great way to engage these muscles.  But don’t pat your back too heavily, this is only the beginning.  Serious core work should be a staple of your workout regimen, done at the beginning or end of every session.  And as soon as an exercise starts to feel easy, it’s time to up the ante.  This could mean raising the difficulty of a beginner exercise (like lifting a foot during planks), or it could mean taking on a whole new level of challenges.  Here are a few of my favorite advanced movements to put in your repertoire:

1.  Downhill/Downstairs Bearcrawl

If you’ve ever done standard bearcrawls you know the impact they have on the middle of your body.  Multiply that 5 fold and you’re in the neighborhood.  Find a hill or a staircase you’re comfortable with and descend supporting yourself on your hands and feet.  Move using an opposite hand/opposite foot pattern.  The key to this exercise is maintaining long, low body posture without sagging the hips.  People also have a tendency to pike their rears in the air when tired, effectively shifting the workload from the core to the legs.  Don’t do this.  Picture the way a cat walks and do your best to emulate.  (Note: this exercise is VERY challenging and will require a great deal of upper body strength)

2.  Straight-arm Hanging Raise

This is best done with your back close to a wall, ensuring minimal swing, but any pull-up bar will do.  Hang with straight arms and lift your legs toward your hands.  Avoid generating momentum by bending the elbows or knees.  It may take a while, but you will eventually build the strength and flexibility you need to get your feet to your hands.

3.  Overhead Tips

This is one of my all-time favorites.  If you have access to a slosh pipe, use it.  If not, a lightweight barbell will do.  Using a wide grip, (when the bar is extended it should be about 8 inches over your head) press the bar up and stand with feet just outside shoulder width.  Keep some air in your lungs to support your diaphragm and slowly tilt your upper body to one side.  As you feel the opposite oblique start to stretch, pull back to upright, pause, and descend to the other side.  As you get accustomed to the movement, tap the barbell to a set of boxes on either side of you, lowering the boxes as you get stronger.  It’s important to keep your tailbone tucked and your ribcage in while doing this exercise.  If someone were watching you from the side, they should see no front to back movement.

The bottom line is, you don’t want to discover your midsection is weak by accident.  Take some time to test your strength, evaluate where you’re lacking, and re-work your program to feature some real core work.  You won’t regret it.

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