Spoiler Alert: it's not about rock-hard 6-pack abs.
In this article, I explain the importance of core stability, and how it applies to movement, as well as teach you the exercises that will help you build a rock-solid core.
We will start by defining the core. It isn't just your abs. It is your entire trunk, and everything that crosses your hip or shoulder contributes to your core stability. This includes your hip and shoulder musculature. They all work together to create a stable foundation, from which EVERY movement you do relies on.
Think about it this way... if you were going to pick between 2 different surfaces, with your goal being to jump vertically as high as possible, would you pick to jump off of sand or concrete? The answer should be obvious: jumping off concrete is going to get you a better result.
The same concept applies from your core. Before you can perform any movement, the musculature in your core "turn on", in order to stabilize you before movement. Depending on how well you stabilize, your core can either act as concrete, or as sand. Whether you are trying to run, jump, push, pull or whatever else, you need a stable base.
By now iI hope it is clear that core stability is important, but what should you do about it?
Well.... the core has so many complexities and intricacies, that it is near impossible to train all of the different planes of movement individually. However, there are a few exercises that help hit most of the planes of movements, and in combination will help stabilize you in even the most awkward positions and movements.
These exercises are:
Hollow Body Hold/Rock
Hard Style Plank (Front and Side)
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1. Hollow Body Hold/Rock
Ok, I said it wasn't about 6-pack abs... but this exercise will certainly help you get towards both a functional and an aesthetically pleasing core.
To perform the Hollow Body Hold or the Rock takes significant strength. Most people won't be able to hold a full Hollow Position for very long, but there are many progressions/regressions. Start with the Armadillo Holds, progress to Armadillo rocks, and then follow the same sequence for the Straddle Hold and Full Body Hold. For all of these progressions/regressions you can follow the same progression, outline below (60s represents 60-seconds; 60r represents 60 repetitions):
- Week 1: 12s/r x 3
- Week 2: 12s/r x 4
- Week 3 : 24s/r x 3
- Week 4: 24s/r x 4
- Week 6: 24s/r x 5
- Week 7: 36s/r x 4
- Week 8: 36s/r x 5
- Week 9: 48s/r x 4
- Week 10: 48s/r x 5
- Week 11: 60s/r x 4
- Week 12: 60s/r x 5
Make sure you test the 60s or 60 rep max for each progression/regression.
A-1) Armadillo Hold - Start on your back and pull your legs and knees up to 90 degrees (90-90 position). Think about 'compressing' core trunk, rather than performing a crunch, reaching your fingertips through your hips, slightly off of the ground. Pull your belly button in, trying to press your lower back into the floow and keep it there,
A-2) Armadillo Rock - Get into an Armadillo Hold and begin to rock from shoulders to hip, without breaking form.
B-1) Straddle Hollow Hold - The basic form is the same: compress your trunk, pulling your belly button through the floor. Unlike the Armadillo regression, spread your legs as wide as possible, position and 'reaching' with your toes.
B-2) Straddle Hollow Rocks - Get into a Straddle Hollow Hold and begin to rock from shoulders to hip, without breaking form.
C-1) Hollow Body Hold - This position if the goal. Keeping your toes pointed, glutes squeezed, pull your belly button in and compress your trunk. You can reach your hands through your hips, or reach overhead.
C-2) Hollow Body Rocks - Get into a Hollow Body Hold and begin to rock from shoulders to hip, without breaking form.
2. Hard Style Plank
This is my favorite style of plank. It is a simple exercise, yet it has many benefits, and can literally change the way you move.
Get into a plank position, with you elbows directly below your shoulder. Once you are in the plank position, contract (aka flex) ALL of the muscles in your body, form shoulders down. DON'T tense your neck or face, try and keep them totally relaxed.
Hold for 10s, and repead 5-10 times throughout the day. I like to have my clients set a timer on their phone that reminds them to get 2-3 reps in, 3-5 times per day.
You can perform this as both a Front Plank and a Side Plank.
3. Bird Dog
The Bird Dog exercise is much less intense than the previous two exercises, but easily just as challenging to perform it correctly.
Start with your hands and knees directly below your shoulders and hips. Extend one hand and opposite foot until they reach the level of your trunk. The goal is to keep you back flat and avoid any rotation. If this progression is too difficult, start with a single limb.
Repeat for repetitions (usually, I do 5/side as a warm up, or up to 10/side for a working set).
4. Pallof Press
One of the primary functions of the core is to resist rotation. I use the Pallof Press with almost every client to develop anti-rotation stability.
The easiest regression is from a full kneel, to half kneel, to standing to split stance. Progress by increasing the resistance, or by progressing the stance difficulty.
Hold a band in front of your chest, holding with the hand farther away from the bands' anchor point. Press the band out in front of your chest, exhaling as you press. Pause for 1-second at the end of the press and return to the starting position. Repeat for 5-20 repetitions per side.
Don't neglect your core! It is one of the most effective things you can do to increase your overall strength, and prevent injury.
Stop jumping off sand, and build your rock solid core with these 4 exercises!
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT