It is 2016. Why are some people still doing Crunches, BOSU Ball Sit-Ups and crazy exercises that "work the core?"
Is it a lack of understanding the true function of the core? Or is it an expression of the need or desire to put the next coolest thing on YouTube? Whatever your core training regimen may be, here are some insights into the true role of the core and how to amp up your Plank.
Understanding Your Abs
The rectus abdominis (RA) is a long muscle comprised of several smaller sections that run from your xiphoid process (the lower end of your sternum) to the bottom of your rib cage and into your pubic symphysis. From an anatomical standpoint, the RA can do many things, but for purposes of this article, let's just say the RA is designed to stabilize the trunk and transfer force.
The true role of the trunk is to remain stable while transferring force between the hips and shoulders. At Cressey Sports Performance, we are known for elite baseball development, and it is not uncommon to see 400- or 500-pound Deadlifts in the off-season. Nor is it uncommon to see guys perform different core variations to promote stability through the trunk.
Why? Think about the mechanics involved in swinging a bat or pitching a ball. The hips and pelvis store energy, which, upon movement, transmit that energy into the ground. The ground transmits force back through the body and into the hands to throw a fastball or crush a baseball with a bat.
This is the true role of your core.
Instead of trying the next big and cool thing that pops up on YouTube to train your core, go back to the basics and use exercises that promote stability throughout your lumbar spine and trunk.
10 Ways to Amp up Your Core Training
If you are like most people, you probably think Planks are boring, and you're trying to hold them for as long as you can. That can be completely fine, but I'd much rather think outside the box and make the exercise more challenging.
1. Prone Bridge With Breaths
Once you are set up in your normal prone bridge position (neutral spine), exhale fully to engage your abs. Breathing may seem simple at first, but I challenge you to maintain the integrity of your spine while full exhaling. If you do so, the Plank will become a lot more challenging, allowing you to own the position.
Repeat for a series of 5 breaths.
2. Prone Bridge March
For this position, you challenge your body to maintain three points of contact while maintaining a neutral spine. Try 6-8 reps per side.
3. Plank to Push-Up
While maintaining a tight body and neutral spine, move into a push-up position. Alternate from side to side to even out your body. Imagine a glass of water on your lower back; do not spill it. That will help you maintain the integrity of your spine. Try 4 or 5 per side
4. Prone Plate Switches
Assume the prone bridge position and switch plates from one side to another. Try to maintain a straight line in your body and don't rock your hips back and forth. You can alter your stance from wide to narrow to make the exercise more difficult. For the video, I chose a wider stance.
5. Slide Board Body Saw
Grab a pair of Valslides or find a slide board and assume a plank position. Tighten your entire body and maintain a neutral spine. Push yourself back and forth as far as your body allows while maintaining the integrity of your spine. Return to the starting position and repeat.
6. Stability Ball Plank and Stir The Pot
Assume a prone bridge position on a stability ball and tighten your entire body. Hold the position and take 5 deep breaths. For Stir the Pot, use your forearms to make small circles in both directions. You should have little movement in the hips and lumbar spine. Raise the difficulty of the exercise by making your stance narrower.
7. Side Bridge With Hip Abduction
This is a great exercise for teaching the core and pelvis to work together to produce stability through the trunk and mobility of the hips. For this video, I use the wall as a tool to teach integrity of the exercise, but feel free to do the exercise without the wall. This is a very challenging exercise. You can regress it by assuming a clamshell position with your knees bent.
8. Side Bridge With Row
Set up in a side bridge and adjust the cable to suit your height. Typically, a lower setting should work. Your elbows should be directly underneath your shoulders. Keep a straight line from toes to shoulders. Keep everything tight and perform a standard row while staying nice and stable. Try 8-10 per side.
9. Off Bench Oblique Holds
Hold your feet on a secure bench and extend your body so your hips are at the edge of the bench. Keep your body in a straight line and don't rotate toward one side or let your head shoot forward. Once in that position, take 5 breaths. You can make this exercise more difficult by grabbing a plate and pulsing it out in front of you.
10. Seal Walk vs. Prowler With Push-Up
I saw Ben Bruno messing around with the Prowler, and since I like to have a little fun in my own training (and think outside the box), I tried this challenging exercise. Try walking 5 yards then incorporate a Push-Up into the mix.
Give these 10 variations a try next time you train your core and let us know what you think.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock