Kill the Core

I hear the term ‘core’ so often in my job.  It’s been rattling my ears for at least 15 years and I have either ignored it or fought it tooth and nail.  I’m sure it started with some enthusiastic ground work.  The type of training that hit fad status and just kept snowballing until it turned into the misleading, cheap way out technique that it has become today.  Core workouts are added to every kind of training program.  They are tacked on to running workouts, studio training sessions, arm days, leg days, power days and sitting at work days.  It is actually quite amazing to see how many variations of crunches, planks and leg tucks can be created.

The general public, at every fitness level and age demographic, have heard this term and have some form of mental picture as to what it means.  The sheer magnitude of the word and its sweeping presence is impressive.  The word core evokes the type of reaction that only the greatest marketers could dream of in a single word.  It ranks right up there with “Apple” as a brand name.  Professional trainers and coaches should know that core workouts are not all they’re cracked up to be.  A core work out is a cop out. Crunches on a mat, crunches on a ball, crunches with arms straight, medicine ball crunches, Rocky crunches, on and on…none of these exercises help to promote your clients’ well-being.  None of them add to the performance of an athlete.  None of them make a person healthier and fitter.  They sure as heck don’t give a client a tighter tummy or lose weight around the middle – wow!  If you come across someone who promotes that tidbit you should exit, stage left.

As I imagine the questions that you may ask me at this point I am leaning towards ‘but Rodney, how do you train abs?”  My response is not a simple one.  It encapsulates years of learning and experimenting with programs.  My response is also based upon my willingness to step away from what people think they want and actually give them what they need in a training program or workout. 

What is the ‘core?’

The core of your body as I define it is the musculature, fascia, bones, joints, ligaments, tendons and any other tissue which links the movement of your lower body to your upper body.  The primary aspect of your core includes mobility through your thoracic spine (t-spine), hips and pelvis. It also includes the fascial links from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.  In addition it encompasses the strength and coordination of the muscles that wrap your body, including the much quoted ‘abs’ of which there are many muscles at many levels.  Core is not simple. 

To condition all of these components of your body, you need to perform exercises that draw all the links into the movement.  One of my latest and greatest is the stair walk.  Clients hold a weight at one shoulder and progress up the stairs at an alarmingly slow rate.  For the 15 stairs in our studio, the best walk to date took 1 minute and 30 seconds, to get to the TOP!  Same duration to get down.  The client is asked to stand tall and straight as they transition their body weight from one foot to the next with minimal delay.  The slight offset of the centre of gravity forces the person to control, contract and coordinate all the aspects of core listed above.  Being good at this exercise means that you have a strong, stable and coordinated core. 

The stair walk being a more ‘static’ exercise, I like to compliment it with a dynamic movement.  An excellent choice here is the single arm kettlebell swing.  The details of the movement require ample coaching but to simplify it, the client basically performs a hip thrust in order to drive the kettlebell up and out to the full extension of the arm.  The person then controls the lowering of the kettlebell with eccentric strength and stabilization. It’s a beauty!

Trainers, let go of the crunches. Let go of the misguided, doe eyed clients need to add an ab blast in a workout.  Teach them to move with control and coordination instead of having them lie on the floor and squeeze themselves into lactic acid bliss.  Kill the core once and for all.

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