The Irony of "Core" Exercises

Little known fact: the majority of the time I'm writing, I'm listening to one of my massive playlists on Spotify.  I'm not sure how many of you use Spotify, but if you don't, you're missing out.  I've used it for the past few years, and it's pretty much eliminated any reason for me to buy music.  Bad for musicians, but good for my pocket.

Anyway, while I'm usually blaring country, I decided to turn on a 90's station the other day and rocked out to Sublime, G. Love, Blackstreet and....Alanis Morissette?  You got it.

Call me inspired by her song, "Ironic," but it got me thinking: there are more than a few ironies when it comes to training and getting stronger.  So, to prove I'm not just hearkening back to simpler times with perms and acid washed jeans, I want to expand on one ironic point of training: those that need core exercises generally can't do them correctly, while those that already have a solid core receive the most benefit.  

If you haven't yet caught the irony of what I said above, let me explain it a bit more.  Whenever someone needs some serious core work, you can throw traditional approaches to core work out the window.  Why?  Because they won't understand how to use their core in the first place, and just prescribing more isn't going to fix the problem.

On the flip side, those that don't necessarily need as much core work tend to be the ones that reap the most benefit with traditional movements (planks, side planks, carries, etc). Why?  The core tends to snowball as it gets stronger, and the simpler the exercise usually gets even more brutal to those that can pick up on the different subtleties.

Getting into specifics, the core is very different than a deadlift, chin up or a press.  In those exercises the weight is either going to move, or it's not....there's no middle ground.  But, when someone is holding a hardstyle plank, there's about 6 or 7 compensations I tend to see on a regular basis....usually by the same people that say planks simply aren't that hard.  Well, I sure as heck beg to differ!  

(A Hardstyle Plank is just like a normal plank....but on steroids.  Instead of simply hanging out in a normal plank, you squeeze your butt as hard as you can, while trying to bring your elbows to your toes. Example on the right.)

So, how does one train a core if they don't have one?  And, how do you get over the hump of not having a core, to finally having one and being able to train it?  Enter: the dead bug.

Here's a wonderful resource from Smart Group Training which explains it all very well.  In my experience, it's been a mix of the right exercise, specific cues, and even a few inaniminate objects that lets someone's dormant core out of the cage.  But, in the absence of any of that in your home, this will suffice:

It looks simple, but when performed properly, it's not easy.  I love dead bugs because it mimics how our core functions in everyday life.  Rarely, if ever, do we ever do a sit-up or crunch type of motion.  Instead, our core tends to act as a conductor of force and as protector of our spine.  When we run for the T, play basketball after work, or move our friends into a new apartment (after all, September 1st is just around the corner in the Boston area), our core is used to brace us, keep us upright, and prevent us from crumpling into a ball of fail.

By hammering home dead bugs, you're well on your way to have a rock solid midsection.  And even if you think you don't need core exercise, simply helping your body remember the basics can be a solid warm up.