Get Off the Floor to Strengthen Your Core

02.24.2011 | by:

Lifting face 2In the pursuit of a strong core, one of the eternal debates in the fitness industry is how much direct work should actually be done for the stomach.

While “core stability” exercises such as planks, paloff presses and even rollouts have become all the rage amongst many trainers and coaches, others claim that developing the body through global exercises such as squatting and deadlifting is all the core training you will ever need.

Though the deadlifting crowd would undoubtedly win this argument in a bar room brawl, I still feel there is some valuable middle ground to be gained from each approach.

One of the concepts recently highlighted in “The New Rules of Lifting for Abs“, a very well written core training manual by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove, is an approach in which core exercises begin on the ground and moves to more “functional” standing positions.

By the end of this book the majority of core training exercises are done in standing positions. It allows us to understand that both floor based exercises and standing training are necessary to ultimately develop a strong core.

The problem with this approach — without buying the book — is how to put all of this together to strengthen the midsection.

Regardless of whether you are preparing for a photoshoot, seeking to add weight to the bar or just not prepared to shell out twenty dollars for the book recommended above, my answer in terms of where to begin (aside from the “plate push away” exercise recommended by famed strength coach Michael Boyle) would be the three stage progression included in this week’s article.

Step #1: Ace the brace:

For individuals with chronic or acute low back conditions, it may come with some irony that one of the causes behind back pain is also the same reason flabby abs fail to tone properly.

In fact, chances are if those crunches thousands of crunches don’t seem to be working (or you regularily experience pain when bending over and twisting the torso), you have forgotten how to use your abs at all.

Undoubtedly the biggest error I see when performing any exercise involving the core or otherwise is the failure to engage an abdominal contraction to properly set pelvic position.

Because sitting and repetitive activities lead to poor positioning of our hips and pelvis, this means that activities such as crunches, planks or any abdominal exercises engage areas other than the abdominals during exercise.

With this in mind, the first step in our training program is learning to properly engage the abs and achieve a more neutral pelvic position. By learning to contract or “brace” the abdominals, we signal all of the muscles surround the core to tighten together around the spine like a weight belt—providing additional stability for daily tasks and exercise.

Research has shown that incorporating a conscious abdominal brace in to daily activities can help to “groove” improved stability by reducing the overall load on the low back.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, engaging the core in this fashion also provides a helping hand to ensure the abdominals bare the brunt of the load during core training.

In our first video, we describe methods for performing a proper abdominal brace and incorporating this in to our program.

Step #2: Best of both worlds:

After learning to engage the abs, the next step in our progression is to incorporate this technique in to basic exercise to challenge and improve the ability to brace.

While many core training programs begins with floor based static exercises such as planks and side planks, we must also train this technique in standing positions to allow for a carry over in to activity—think bending over or walking down the beach with your shirt off.

This has led us to develop a “standing” core series of exercises which train the core to resist motions in various standing positions.

In our second video, we demonstrate our entry level core program for clients to fortify the core on the floor and in standing.

Step #3: Best of both worlds:

Once stability has been gained in static positions, the key to core training is providing an increasingly progressive challenge to the abdominal brace. In order to do so, we incorporate both standing and floor based core exercises in tandem to challenge the brace from various positions.

Because we are limited in our ability to add resistance in floor based exercises, standing movements open up a world of possibility for this purpose.

By utilizing a method regularly reserved for bodybuilding known as “post-fatigue”, we can perform several standing core exercises first followed by a floor based core exercise for lower reps—thus allowing us to transfer the bulk of our training in to standing positions.

Though this may sound a bit complicated, check out our last video for a “how to” tutorial on setting up the ultimate standing core training circuit.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jon Tunnell