3 Core Exercises to Harness Your Inner "Channing"

Impressive - but how much do they deadlift?

Impressive - but how much do they deadlift?

Even though we're about 11 hours from it being officially #mancrushmonday (which, for the record, is every Monday), it's probably no surprise that I've already seen the new Magic Mike trailer.

Yes, I saw the first one.  And yes, it was me asking Lindsay to go see it.  And no, I haven't been practicing my dance moves in the mirror (ok, maybe a wee bit).

While I'm not as excited as when I saw "Snakes on a Plane" on opening night in 2007 - you can tell I have great taste in movies - the success of Magic Mike at the box office makes me think of two points:  1) Most guys wish they could dance like Channing Tatum and 2) no one would be displeased if they woke up tomorrow with a great set of abzzz.  And, while I can't help you with the former, I can definitely outline how to obtain the latter.

Of course, I always joke that the fastest way to a six-pack is by doing one simple exercise: push-aways.  What is it?  Well, see what you're about to eat?  Now push it away.

You don't have to do this in order to get a six pack....but it won't hurt either.

You don't have to do this in order to get a six pack....but it won't hurt either.

I jest....but not really.  Your overall diet is going to be 90-95% of what's going to get your Channing on and your "abbies" visible.  The old adage that "abs are made in the kitchen" is completely accurate, and working out harder/longer to make up for poor food choices is not going to get you there.  In fact, I wrote about that here, here and here.

Assuming your diet is squared away - which means you're not constantly feeling hungry, and 2/3 of your diet consists of actual fruit and vegetables -  how do you actually develop your core?  First, the function of the "core" is really to act as a transfer of force in any athletic or strength move.  If you think about it, we're never trying to create power with our core.  Instead, we're always trying to create power with our limbs and have it transfer somewhere else, like in a baseball swing, kickboxing, or a jump shot.  When it comes to training our core, we need to make our core as stiff as possible by trying to resist forces.

Sidenote: since you never see someone create power with their core, loaded sit ups are never going to be a good option.  And, they should be called by their proper name, "spinal destroyers."

Below are 4 core exercises laid out in progressive form.  Master each one before moving onto the next.  And if you like variety, that's totally cool and I get it.....but you probably don't like progress.

#1 Learn a Proper Dead Bug

If I had to pick one ab exercise that's going to give you the most bang for your buck AND provide you immediate feedback (as to whether or not you suck at it as much as I do), it'd be dead bugs.  Why?

With a dead bug, we need to tighten our core as much as possible, while putting our pelvis in a posterior tilt.  Another way of saying it is that instead of our normal curve in our lower back (anterior tilt), we want to tilt it the other way just like a sad dog (posterior tilt).  From there, we're trying to keep that sad dog tilt, while our legs and/or arms are trying to force us into extension.   A few sets of 3-5 reps, while concentrating on keeping your abs as tight as you can is all you need.

While there are a few different variations, I love the towel variation because it gives you that immediate feedback as to whether you can keep your tilt and get tight....not to mention how super hard and embarrassing it is when that towel comes flying out.

And yes, I've been there.

2. Master the Hardstyle Front Plank

I'm a big Occam's Razor guy and that's probably why I love front planks so gosh darn much.  Now let it be known - the hardstyle plank is not your normal front plank.  Far from it.

The Hardstyle Plank, with a "sad dog" posterior tilt

The Hardstyle Plank, with a "sad dog" posterior tilt

Instead of just hanging out and seeing how long we can hold a plank, we're trying to create as much tension as possible in about 10 seconds.  To do that, we're trying to pull our elbows to our toes and our toes to elbows, without actually moving them.  By "zipping up" our midsection and squeezing our glutes as hard as possible, we're going to once again find ourselves in that posterior "sad dog" tilt.

With this variation (and honestly, these are the only way to do a plank), we're creating super-stiffness that's going to be keeping our spine safe in any movement.  Plus, three to five sets of these for about 10 seconds each is about 37 times harder than a normal front plank.  #science.

3. Repeat #1 and #2

I know, it's boring....but it works.  In fact, the hardest part about "core" exercises like these is that they're as hard as you want to make them.  You can always get tighter, and the stronger you get, the less you'll actually be able to do....and if you're not at that point, then you haven't mastered them quite yet.

Also, remember that not every exercise needs to be progressed.  There's value in simply doing the basics perfectly, so that you're body can remember how to move and stabilize.

4. Learn the Ab Wheel Rollout

If you've made it this far, then you should have mastered the bread and butter of core exercises - dead bugs and front planks.  From here on out the exercises may get sexier, but the core values remain: 1) get as tight as you possibly can and 2) stay within 3-5 reps for each set.

While there are plenty of other exercises you could do, I'm partial to ab wheel rollouts because of the huge anti-extension benefit we receive from them (note: it's a benefit you only receive when doing them properly).  Here's an example of me performing rollouts, which I filmed just the other day (and yes, thank you for noticing my haircut..)

As you can see, I start with my glutes and core as tight as it could possibly be.  I also add in an extended exhale, making sure that I'm breathing out as much air as I can while getting my ribs down towards my hips.  I also usually make a joke about doing your best Patriots impression and deflating as much as you can.....but I think that's a bit worn out by now :)

Anyway, if you'd like to learn more about the Ab Wheel Rollout, Jordan Syatt put out a great guide a few months ago that you can view here.


So there you have it - three exercises to focus on to elevate your abzz to "Channing" status.  But, if you simply concentrate on eating as well as you can and getting as strong as you can, physique changes tend to occur merely as a side-effect.