Good News for People Who Don’t Like Traditional Core Training
I’ll be the first one to say it: I want a functionally strong core (and, admittedly, a six pack) but there’s nothing I dread more than getting down on the floor to do core work. If you’re like me, and you want a strong mid-section but struggle to get yourself down on the floor to rep out some sit-ups, I have good news for you.
I used to get down on my bedroom floor multiple times a day for sets of 40 sit-ups. I hated every second of it. My big mental breakthrough with core training came, unsurprisingly, when I began interning at Force and started to learn that there’s this thing called functional training, and hey – it’s a lot more fun and way more effective than isolating muscle groups. In the context of core work, functional training means strengthening the core by making it do what it does in real life – executing balance, fighting rotation, resisting extension.
Here are two of the many reasons functional training is superior to isolated training: Reason #1 lies in one of the biggest myth busters of the fitness world – you cannot target stomach fat with core training. You have likely heard this before, but you may still hold onto the false promise that if you do a certain double or even triple-digit number of sit-ups each day, you will finally shed that pesky extra weight around your belly button. Reason #2 is that the primary function of the core in sports and in daily activity is not to produce force and movement – like we make it do in the traditional sit-up – but to control and transfer forces produced by your limbs in dynamic movement, and to resist torques that may put your body in vulnerable positions. Knowing that, it only makes the most sense that you train your core in context of its functions – for example, as a stabilizer rather than a mover. Spinal flexion is not one of the primary functions of your core, which means that you can ditch the sit-ups and the crunches for good.
If you lift weights, the core is the major stabilizer in just about every major movement you preform. Whether you know it or not, your posture and core engagement play a huge part in the quality of your lift and therefore, the amount of weight you can lift. I’ve witnessed clients able to make large jumps in their lifts within the span of a week after simply learning proper core positioning and diaphragmatic breathing. With this in mind, most lifts are core exercises in disguise, if done with correct form. The push press? You most likely think of it as an exercise to strengthen your shoulders. True, but it’s also a heavy anti-extension exercises that requires your core to maximally stabilize so that you don’t compromise your back. If you’re doing heavy lifting, you’re also doing core work. Good news, right?
While it’s true that everyone needs some amount of time on the ground using the floor as feedback for position and posture, this amount of time is likely far less than you think. Especially for people who have just started training, it’s crucial to first train the core to function optimally in static movements first, like hollow body holds. The first step in effective core training is to get you out of the extension posture that we all live in – pelvis tipped forward, lots of pressure on the lower back – by teaching how proper posture feels. Core exercises from the floor do this well because they allow you to feel where your spine is in relation to a surface. Moral of the story: Hollow body holds are good for everyone, but in order to give your core the best workout, you need to get up off the ground and move. Once you establish that posture and strength in static movements like the hollow hold and the dead bug, you’re ready to train your core in more real-world contexts (aka the fun stuff).
My favorite core exercises are the sneaky ones that make my abdominals sore the next day, but don’t present as ab exercises in look or feel. To name a few, the single-leg RDL, the rip-trainer triple strike (an explosive, athletic movement), and the tripod transition on the balance beam. I have fun doing them, they’re heavily task-oriented so that I’m not watching the clock, and usually, my abs are pleasantly sore the next day.
If you’re finding yourself bored of traditional core work, ask a coach to help you explore some more dynamic exercises or program you something completely new. You can strengthen your core while having fun with it – which means you can have your cake and eat it, too.