Core is probably the single most important muscle group you can train. In pretty much every functional movement, your core is involved. So why do we treat it like an accessory muscle? Get off the ab machines, stop just doing crunches at the end of your workout, and start training smart.
I’ve put together a few important tips to help you get those abs up to snuff. But remember, training core isn’t about bringing out a six pack.
That’s entirely related to body fat. We’re talking about something more important: building strength for functionality and life.
So when you’re planning your core work out, keep these tips in mind.
Crunches Are Worthless
Ok. That’s a HUGE exaggeration. Crunches are fine to throw in at the end of your core workout. But we as a society love to focus on crunches and flexion exercises in general. Think about the ab machines you see. It’s mostly just simulated crunches.
So instead of filling your routine with a thousand different crunch variations, follow my next bit of advice.
Go For Compound
In every other muscle group, we encourage compound movements. We do bench press over flies, overhead press over lateral raises, deadlifts over leg curls, etc. Of course we throw in the isolation exercises, but we know the real gains come when multiple joints are in motion.
Crunches are just back flexion. So instead of starting there, some of the best ab moves you can do probably don’t jump out as core exercises.
A good example is the renegade row. In this exercise you’re in a plank position with dumbbell in each hand. You’re going to row each weight up for a full lat contraction, avoiding the temptation to rotate your body. This is obviously a lat exercise, but by activating other muscle groups, you’re actually going to get great core activation.
Train Frequently, but Don’t Forget Rest
Yes, it’s true that you can work your core more often than other muscle groups. In reality, you have to. Every compound move you do is going to tax them a little bit, so if they didn’t have some god-like endurance, a two-day training split would be out of the question.
Unfortunately, some people take this too far. They’re doing a full core circuit every workout, and sometimes tossing in some planks on their off days. Even doing yoga on a active rest day is going to hit them. So just give them a few days off a week to relax. They need some rest to grow just like any other muscle.
Don’t Focus On Endurance
For those of us that have managed to move on from crunches, we “graduated” to the plank. The plank is a great exercise, especially for testing core strength, but we approach it all wrong. You probably set 1 minute as your first goal, which is an awesome accomplishment, but where did you go from there? Did you try for 2? Or worse, did you just hang out at 1 minute planks for years?
Both options are pretty bad. Stagnancy won’t bring about results, but neither will absurd plank marathons. If you manage to keep perfect form with optimal ab contraction for two minutes, you should be moving on to more advanced exercises. That could mean as little as planks on a ball, but it should eventually lead to compound motions like plank ups or renegades.
Think of it in terms of functionality. When in your life are you going to have your core activated for 2 minutes straight? Just like popping out 30 reps on the bench is worthless, holding planks for minutes on end is not going to get you the gains you crave.
The Best Exercises For A Strong Core
These are some GREAT exercises for the core that will help strengthen your mid section and in turn help you in every type of movement you do from heavy squats and deadlifts to calisthenics moves like front levers.
Start with simple progressions and move on to more difficult exercises as your core strength develops over time.
The Hanging Leg Lift
This is an amazing core exercise when DONE CORRECTLY. You will see a lot of people at your gym doing these INCORRECTLY and they’re not really working their core at all. Doing leg lifts with proper form is very humbling, so make sure you have your form down or else you’re just cheating yourself.
The key to proper form leg lifts is keeping a posterior pelvic tilt.
To put it more simply, try and have no curve in your lower back while doing the leg lifts. Look at the below progressions and how the demonstrator never has a curve in his lower back. This keeps all the focus on the core.
Start with the easiest version that you can do at least 3 sets of 8 reps of than graduate to the next version of the hanging leg lift.
Tuck Half Hanging Leg Lifts
Full Tuck Hanging Leg Lifts
Half Hanging Leg Lifts
The Hollow Hold
This is a static core exercise similar to a plank but I personally think it’s a lot more effective in bringing up your core strength. It’s very hard to cheat on these and the proper form ques are a lot more straight forward than the plank.
It’s completely normal to only get a few seconds of the hollow hold and have your body shake a bit when you first begin doing the exercise (you’ll get used to it over time).
The goal with doing the hollow hold is to hold it for a complete time of 60 seconds.
This means if you can only do 10 seconds, you will do 6 sets of 10 seconds to reach a maximum time of 60 and try to progress from there.
- Lower back should be in contact with the floor the ENTIRE TIME!
- Flex the glutes and point the toes
- Shoulders off the ground
You don’t need 10 different exercises to target the core. The core itself is a muscle that’s easily hit with compound movements.
Mastering these 2 core exercises will give you both the dynamic core strength and the static core strength you need to properly execute difficult weight lifting and calisthenic movements, have better and more proper posture and of course help you (a long side a good cutting diet) get you those rippling 6 pack abs.