Core workouts are extremely popular among athletes. Why? Because training the core results in those six-pack abs everyone wants. However, the benefits of core training go far beyond appearance.
The core includes muscles from the upper thighs all the way up to the chest, in both the front and back of the body. Connecting the lower body to the upper body, the core is engaged in almost every movement. Developing your core muscles will improve the efficiency of power transfers between your lower and upper body. Enhanced core strength also stabilizes the spine and helps prevent back injuries.
So, what sort of core workout will give you the best results in the shortest amount of time? I recommend a standing core workout. Performing exercises in a standing position, while also walking, will quickly improve your core strength.
Traditional weightlifting exercises, like the Squat, rely heavily on the entire core to support the movement. High levels of core muscle recruitment result from supporting heavy weight in a standing position. It's obvious why more weight will challenge your core, but why is standing better than a Plank or other core exercises?
When your upper body supports weight during the Squat—or any similar movement—the core muscles in the front and back of your body must be equally engaged to maintain a stable and strong spine. You can take this a step further by performing exercises that involve supporting weight while walking. In a 2009 study, Stuart McGill, a professor at the University of Waterloo, examined the effects of Strongman events on core activation. Strongman events mimic hunter/gatherer activities with movements like Sled Drags and Farmer's Walk, as shown in the video below. McGill found that muscle activation peaked in these events when the athlete was walking—in fact, it was 65 percent greater than when standing.
To increase your core strength, perform the Farmer's Walk* twice a week. Use Farmer's Walk handles loaded with 90 pounds for men or 50 pounds for women. If you don't have Farmer's Walk handles, use heavy dumbbells or kettlebells. Walk 30 yards, holding the weight with your right hand. Then turn and walk 30 yards back to start holding the weight with your left hand. Focus on keeping your core tight and retaining a balanced posture to minimize sway while walking.
*Note: only perform this exercise if you can perform 16 Pull-Ups (male) or six Pull-Ups (female).
Scott Salwasser, CSCS, is a coach at SPARTA Performance Science in Menlo Park, Calif., where he works with athletes from the MLB, NBA and NFL, as well as with collegiate and elite high school athletes. He has worked as a strength and conditioning coach at the Division I level and in the NFL as an intern. Salwasser played football in college and competed as an Olympic style weightlifter. He has a master's degree in kinesiology.
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