No matter what you hear or read, one factor that can never be denied is the need for strong, long lasting core muscles. It may have been image of Rocky Balboa training in Russia, or watching a gymnast at an Olympic games that was your inspiration to develop an awesome core, but one thing on your side is the amount of different exercises that target the area, in fact there is no other body part that comes close to the amount exercises designed for it!
< TRAINING INTRODUCTION >
Personally from my experience, a rock solid core was always crucial, first for my football career to escape tackles and maintain pace and balance. Then later down the line that necessity became even more important with my time in army, having the ability to carry equipment weighing well over 90lbs (40kg) for days on end was part of the job, the difference between a pass and fail and in a battle situation, life and death.
I remember taking my body to absolute extremes when training my core, sacrificing many a weekend and movie in with the girlfriend to put myself in the most challenging of situations. I did it to make sure I wouldn't have to when it mattered most, to make sure I was hardened and comfortable in the eyes of total discomfort. I tried my best to follow the belief that:
'Pain in preparation meant comfort in competition.'
The essence of a person's strength lies in its core, so improving this backbone also ensures great progress with many of your other favourite weight lifting movements.
The muscular compartments of the abdominal area and lower back, known as the "core" muscles, are vital in trunk stabilization and power production in many athletic skills. My strength-training programs place a high priority on these muscles, as the neglect of them can create a weak link at the body's center.
Before explaining some of our favorite movements, I'd like to offer a closer look at the muscles in question. Feel free to open up my human anatomy diagram for reference while you read. <Click Here>
Abdominal muscles: The four abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus, external oblique, internal oblique, and transverse abdominus) serve to flex the thorax, rotate and laterally flex the vertebral column, and compress the abdominal region. These are crucial anterior lateral core muscles for torso support.
Low back muscles: The erector spinae group (spinalis longissimus and iliocostalis), the transversospinalis group (multifidi, rotators, and semispinalis), and the quadratus lumborum, comprise the posterior extrinsic and intrinsic support groups.
Collectively, these structures are responsible for extending, laterally flexing, and rotating the vertebral column.
An infinite number of exercises are available for the core. The photos illustrate a few of my favorites:
1) Medicine Ball Crunches:
Assume a supine position with bent knees, and maintain an erect torso while flexing the trunk to a position just short of perpendicular to the floor. Pause for a second in that position, then lower the trunk to the point where the lower back touches the floor. (For additional resistance, we use medicine ball of various sizes and weights.)
To stimulate the obliques, add a twist to the right and left at the mid-range of the exercise. You may assure a proper movement range when twisting by taking the med-ball slightly behind the hips.
2) Rock the Bridge:
My personal favourite core exercise. Assume the standard bridge position, though swing your body onto its side. Once in this position lock your hips out and brace hard your abdominals and low lying obliques. Distribute your bodies weight as close to your legs as possible and as much off your arm at all times. This exercises movement is a raising of the hips and glutes directly upwards towards the ceiling.
Perform 20 reps on your right side, then immediatly followed by 20 on your left, then 15 on your right, 15 on your left, then 10 on your right, 10 on your left, and finish with a 45 second hold on both sides.
Put simply this is the most effective side oblique and core exercise I perform, try it with the rep range above and see what you think.
< STARTING POSITION >
< HIP SHIFTING MOVEMENT >
2) Bench Twists:
Hook the feet beneath a bench and twist the torso to a position where you are facing the floor. Gradually raise the torso to a position where the shoulders are square to the bench. Alternate the twists to the right and left.
For additional resistance, hold a small weight plate or med-ball across the chest.
3) Swiss Ball Twists:
From a supine position, place the shoulders and the back of the neck and head on a "swiss" ball. Keep the knees bent at approximately 90 degrees with the legs and torso parallel to the ground and the arms extended perpendicularly to the floor. Note: It is important to maintain this position for trunk stabilization and the correct execution of the exercise.
Now, twist the torso so that the arms come to the floor and pause for a second before returning to the starting position. Alternate the twists to the right and left.
For additional resistance, hold a small weight plate or med-ball.
4) Ab Wheel Roll:
Consists of a wheel(s) with a shaft or handles running through the center for grip purposes. I constructed six of these wheels from the materials purchased at a hardware store.
From the kneeling position, maintain straight arms and a straight back posture while rolling the wheel out to where the arms and back are parallel to the floor. Pause for a second before returning to the starting position.
Maintain a straight arm and back posture when returning to the starting position.
For variety and to stimulate more lateral musculature, turn the wheel slightly and make arching paths to the right and left, bloody tough though, trust me!
5) Back Extensions:
A staple in most programs, this is an excellent low-back exercise that starts with the body in the flexed position and then extended to a position in which the legs and torso are parallel to the floor. Pause briefly and then return slowly to the starting position.
The exercise can be made more difficult by placing a weight plate onto your upper back or starting in the standing position. However, I do not recommend doing this until at least 12-15 perfect bodyweight reps can be performed.
I perform at least one core exercise at the completion of a strength-training workout. They are performed last for a very important reason: These compartments are constantly working, albeit indirectly, as stabilizers in many other exercises performed in strength-training routines, and we do not want to compromise the execution and/or safety factors in the lifts by pre-fatiguing the core muscles.
The rep ranges for these exercises are usually moderate to high. We seldom perform less than 12 reps per set and often go as high as 20 or more.
As with most of my strength-training exercises, we perform 1-3 sets of each chosen exercise. The deciding factor is the number of exercises in the workout; the more exercises, the fewer sets.
One thing I'v learned from martial arts experts, champion athletes and professional footballers is the importance of a strong, balanced core. Make sure that you've accounted for it in your training routines.
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