Core Strength – How to be strong from the middle out!
Everything comes from the core. The core is the foundation to all functional movements whether strength or mobility based. Core strength, in my own definition, is the ability to maintain a positive spine & torso position during force creation whilst under stress, load or rotation.
Put simply, your core must be able to maintain the load your legs or arms are trying to move – whether that’s your own bodyweight or a double bodyweight backsquat.
A lack of core strength is one of the biggest reasons for missed lifts and also the majority of minor injuries throughout the centre of the body. Whenever one area of the body is limited in any particular way, force is shifted to another area of the body. This compensation often overloads areas of the body that are not designed for movement or force production, rather for stability. Once we ask this area to work, the segments of the body and correct sequence of movement and force production is broken and we then risk injury. So it makes sense to continually focus on your core strength and the aspects of performance that allow you to continue to develop both technically and physically.
So before we get into how to build a stronger core, lets understand the areas we are focusing on:
The Abdominals – the big muscles from your chest down to your hips, the desired ‘6 pack’ or the ‘lifters rig’. This allows flexion (curving the spine forwards) of the torso.
Erector Spinae – this is big muscle running right along your spine that allows the extension (curving the spine backwards) of the torso. This may be referred to as your trunk as apposed to the core, however due to its close relationship with the abdominals and paired movement, it is very important to include this in the same workload to increase your force production potential.
Intercostals & Obliques – Both located to the side of your torso and function to allow rotation of the torso and movement of the rib cage.
The Serratus – this is between your abs and your lats and is directly responsible to scapula movement and health so particularly important for the gymnastics movements.
So we know what the core is and we know why we need it to function correctly, so how do we go about improving that function? Below is the process I would look to implement into your training for a continued core development. During this time I would also encourage you to pay close attention to your gymnastics movements and heavy lifts and record your progress – if this is your goal then the improvement of these movements will be a reward for your work as well as motivation to continue your personal development.
As with anything else there are progressions to work through. For most of you however, a lot of the movements below will be a part of your training already but the specific use of these movements in order to build a stronger core will see you get your gains even quicker! We will look through:
Bodyweight movements >
Loaded rotational and asymmetrical movements >
Sit Ups & Back Extensions – either on the floor maintain full ROM or using the GHD Machine in the box.
Plank Series – from the standard plank, making sure you maintain a straight back at all times, to other variations – eg side plank, narrow/wide positioning.
Mountain Climbers – in a raised push up position, drive your knees up to your chest maintaining spinal and hip positioning.
L-Sits – Working up from a couple of 20kg plates, to the parallettes & up to the rings for increased stability.
Leg Raises & Toes 2 Bar – The application of these movements and scaling options is a great way to build up the core – during all movements, when core focused, make sure the eccentric (downward phase is slow and controlled)
Front Levers, Scap Pulls & Gymnastics holds – Working in a controlled manner, no kipping, requires a constantly engaged tight core. Pull down on the bar whilst maintain perfect body position for the levers and hold your bodyweight at straight arms length for the holds on the rings – making sure you turn your hands out.
Loaded Rotational & Asymmetrical Movements:
Rotation is limited in crossfit, however the ability to perform these movements is key to physical health. Asymmetrical movements are when the body is loaded on one side and not the other, leading to different types of stability and force production on either side of the body.
Russian Twists – using a plate or a medball, sitting on the floor, raise your feet off the floor with bent knees, maintain your spine position, and rotate the weight to either side of your body touching the ground on either side.
Turkish getups – Master the art of the Turkish getup using a kettelbell for great body awareness, strength and correct function.
Lunges – there are many variations here, all of which I would promote doing asymmetrically. Whether front loaded, overhead or suitcase – hold a weight on one side of your body only and lunge. Make sure either side is equal in terms of weight and reps unless you specifically have a weaker side, in which case focus your attention on that area.
Cable Chops & Pulls – no cables at the box? Use the ski-erg machines to work on rotational pull downs with great levels of resistance.
Man Makers – this lovely movement’s requires everything and a tight core at all times. During the dumbbell row aspects, which you can do on its own, we are resisting rotation and there developing rotation and core strength.
Heavy lifting needs a strong core, but also develops it. When you are using heavy lifting for core strength, work without a belt particularly and without weightlifting shoes where possible. Choose a weight that is heavy enough to challenge you, particularly without the added support, but allows you to maintain perfect positions throughout the lifts.
Squat programs are available for those of you really looking to increase on these movements, however they are generally very tiring and will have an effect on the rest of your training. So if you choose to do one, Smolov is very effective, then make sure you balance it out with your other goals.
Front Squats – this is hugely important for core strength and extremely important for your Olympic lifts. Work all aspects of the front squat – pause, tempo, bottom up and increase volume considerably.
Overhead Squats – Massive for mobility as well as excellent body and core positioning. As above for rep ranges and different types.
Deadlifts – the ultimate lift for overall strength and core positioning. Again work without a belt at a weight that is challenging but allows you to maintain a perfect spine and core position. I would also encourage barefoot as this gives the body a new level of feedback that can really help you to generate power through the ground.
A strong core leads to strong performance so go ahead and add some of the above aspects into your training, the results will be clear to see for everyone.
As with everything else, if you have any questions or would like help with any of the above movements don’t hesitate to ask one of us to run you through it.