21st Century "Core Training"

I hate sit-ups. I really do.  And, if I haven’t made that clear by now, then you probably don’t know me very well.


So, it must come as no surprise that after I go on my weekly rant about why I hate sit-ups, I often get asked “what do you do to train your core instead?”  While I usually start by having midgets punch me in the stomach, there are a few other things I tend to incorporate.

Before I move on, its important to state why sit-ups are a terrible idea.  As I stated in this post, research conducted by Dr. Stuart McGill has shown that sit-ups are one of the best ways to give yourself a herniated disc.  Furthermore, thinking about your core as only your rectus abdominus (the muscle that makes Channing Tatum have awesome abzzzz), is misinformation that we’ve been fed through various media.

Instead, you need to think of your core as much more encompassing of all the muscles that make up your stomach and back.  If you only train those muscles doing sit-ups, then you’ll be very good at a bad exercise.  What you need to do, is train these muscles to prevent rotation or movement, in a dynamic fashion.

Before we get there, the first thing you need to do is teach yourself how to brace your core.  This means to start in a “dead bug” position, which I’ve demonstrated below.  There are plenty of progressions and regressions from this position, but your lower back should not be coming off the floor at all, and you should only feel this movement in your stomach.

Once you've done that, it’s time to move on to your standard plank.  You can start doing planks from your knees, rather than toes to make it a bit easier.  The important cues you want to focus in on are to be bracing (or squeezing) your abs as well as your glutes. Ideally, you want a straight line from your head down to your feet.  While I may not be demonstrating that in this video, I argue that for me, my pelvis is in the correct position as I'm properly bracing, and having my hips up higher makes me unable to squeeze both areas.  That's just me.  But, on to the video!

Next, side planks are in order.  Once again, you could do these from your knees to make them easier, and Stuart McGill says that a proper side plank should only last 15 seconds.  After that, compensations start to kick in, and you can probably tell how I start shake just seconds into the video.  Like many other things, it's easy to make them look right, but tough when you do them correctly.

After you’ve mastered that, bring in some valslide action!  These are called bodysaws and are tough.  You could also progress these by only having one foot on the ground, adding some weight on your back, etc.

After all that stuff, it's time to do some heavy duty core training with weights.  Below are farmer's carries which are very, very under appreciated.  If you take a simplistic view, you'll think we're training grip and pure strength.  A more encompassing view will illustrate we're training your entire core musculature in a dynamic movement.  Note how my shoulders are back, but I'm squeezing my stomach so that my ribs aren't flaring up.  As the legend Dan John has made clear, there’s something about carrying heavy stuff that’s just pretty awesome.

Lastly, we have an anti-rotation exercise which will seem pretty easy, but is actually quite difficult.  You’ll see in the video below that I do this from tall-kneeling.  Why?  Because we need to build stability in this position first, as it takes out all the extraneous limbs and moving parts.  Also, I’ve had a tough time getting people stable in even this position, so moving onto anything else is moot.  Anyway, here’s the last video:

Hopefully you learned something, because this blog post suddenly became a bit....epic.  Anyway, try to incorporate a few of these next time you're in the gym, and let me know what you think!