If you’re clever, you may be able to skip it entirely.
If you ask most people what core training looks like, they’ll get down on the floor and do a plank hold or some sit-ups. While these exercises have a time and place, it’s time to flip our perspective of what true core training is. We’re so caught up in flexing and extending the spine to work the ‘six-pack’ that we can forget what the core’s main purpose is.
The core’s big role is to stabilize the spinal column/pelvis and resist unnecessary rotation or perturbations. Additionally, it’s constantly working to transfer weight up and down the body in the most efficient manner possible. Every step you take, your core is working to keep you neutral and balanced. When you go on a long run, it’s leading the way in the maintenance of posture and proper running gait as you fatigue. When we perform the ‘usual’ core exercises such as plank holds and sit-ups, we’re only experiencing resistance in one plane of movement. Unfortunately, this is the least functional and efficient way to train the core.
If we expand our view of what the core is, we’ll quickly realize that it’s a 3D cylinder of muscles working together that range from the glutes to erector spinae, obliques, and more. To activate all of these muscles, we must add a stability/balance/‘anti rotation’ element to our exercises. This may feel backwards, but we end up spending most of our time with a neutral trunk while moving the arms and legs to achieve a proper core stimulus. No crunches are needed here!
Functional core training is not about flexing and extending the spine, but rather about resisting rotation to fully maximize the core’s role as a stabilizer.
It’s time to widen the scope of what ‘training your core’ really means. If you dread that end-of-workout core routine, you may be able to skip it! This is all about performing exercises that naturally challenge the core in a functional manner. If you frequently do movements like the ones found below, you’ll be far better off from an injury prevention standpoint.
Before we dive in, it should be mentioned that if you do want to get a 6-pack, maximizing your results will require some isolated core training. This includes activities such as hanging leg raises or cable crunches. If you’re solely wanting to strengthen your core to protect yourself from injury and improve your performance, exercises like the ones found below can very well be adequate for your needs. Lastly, please know that I’m by no means against doing a dedicated core routine. I simply want to provide other ways for you to think about training that can potentially save you time. Let’s jump into it!
Three functional exercises that will train your core to cope with life.
1) Single-Leg Deadlifts
Application: 2 x 10–15 reps per side
Cues: Before you begin, tighten your core and picture stacking the ribs over your pelvis. Next, plant one foot and hinge the hips until your back leg extends back behind you. All the while, keep the back + neck neutral and core engaged. If your hamstrings are super tight, you’re welcome to have a slight bend in the knee of the front leg. Once you’ve reached the lowest point that you can control, extend the hips and fire up your glutes to return to the starting position. If you’re using weight, ensure it stays close to your legs throughout to protect the back.
There are two levels to this movement. You can have weights in both hands, or you can load up with a heavy weight in the hand opposite to the planted leg. Your number one priority is keeping the back leg straight (avoid rotating it out) while keeping the hips level. If you can achieve this while going through a full range of motion, you’ll be well equipped for many activities of daily life.
2) Pallof Press Lunges
Application: 2 x 10–15 reps / side
Cues: Start in a neutral standing position with the band pressed out in front of you. While keeping your core engaged and shoulders/hips square to the direction you’re facing, slowly step back and descend into a reverse lunge. After a 1 second hold at the bottom position, extend back up to neutral. Throughout the entirety of each rep, the band position stays locked in at the midline of your body. To elevate the challenge of this exercise, avoid planting your knee at the bottom range of motion to put additional work on your stabilizers. Rember to breathe throughout this exercise!
3) Single-Arm Kettlebell Press
Application: 2 x 10–12 reps / side
Cues: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a kettlebell close to your chest with your elbow down and the kettlebell resting on the back of your arm. Your wrist should be in line with your forearm as if driving a punch through the kettlebell handle. Brace your core and extend your arm overhead, opening your elbow to the side and corkscrewing your wrist as you press up to full extension. Ensure you exhale on the extension. You should finish with your elbow by your ear, palm forward, and should be able to draw a straight line from your hand through your elbow and shoulder to your hip. Slowly return to the start while maintaining the core tension.
Core training doesn’t need to involve a yoga mat! If you’re smart with your exercise selection, you can train many areas of your body while still giving the core the attention it deserves.
While core training is typically associated with exercises like planks and sit-ups, we now know that it’s much more than that. Core training is so diverse that you can implement it into your workout without even realizing you did it. If you dislike your current core routine or you’re tight on time, start thinking about picking up functional activities like the ones above! Not only will they still give you that core work you’re looking for, but they’ll also boost your body awareness, injury prevention, and overall functionality.
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