In recent years the term core training has been one of the most popular buzzwords in fitness but is often mis-used. For some people, core training means doing crunches until their abs cramp. For others core training means doing all sorts of complicated moves on various pieces of equipment that look better suited for a circus than a gym. First let’s clear the air, we ALL have a six-pack; some of us just choose to keep it hidden under extra layers of energy (nutrients not metabolized into energy to fuel muscles tend to be stored as fat).
The primary role of the core muscles are to control, reduce and produce the forces moving through our body making it possible to walk, run or throw. When standing upright, as our legs move through the gait cycle, our upper body counter-rotates on top of our lower body. When we look at the muscles of the core we can see that they are designed to be the most efficient when we’re standing upright and our feet are moving over the ground.
When it comes to exercise we want our exercise movements to mimic and replicate how our body is designed to move in its natural environment. The most effective core exercises have us on our feet using everything from our hips to our shoulders at the same time. Since the core muscles connect the shoulders to the hips, they’re used to keep everything working together.
My personal opinion is that “form follows function” which means training to improve movement by using all of the muscles in your body at the same time can help enhance performance while simultaneously improving appearance. When we do that we increase the caloric burn of exercise helping to burn more calories in shorter periods of time.
To improve your appearance and performance the following exercises should be an integral part of your regular exercise program:
Start in a high plank – a push-up position where the hands are little wider than shoulder width. Start holding a plank and keep track of the elapsed time. Being able to hold the position for longer periods of time allows you to see the progress you’re making. Once you can hold a plank for forty-five seconds it’s time to increase the challenge.
Plank with rotation – great for the shoulders, upper back and obliques
Press your right hand into the floor as you reach with your left hand for the ceiling-turn your shoulders and hips together while pivoting on your feet. Press your right hand into the ground to increase stability and strength of the right shoulder; alternate sides 4-6 reps total.
Plank-up – great for shoulders, triceps and deep core muscles
Start in a high plank (push-up position) drop the right arm to the right elbow, then drop the left arm to the left elbow, return to the start position by placing the right hand on the ground then the left hand; alternate lead hand/arm for 6-8 reps total.
Side plank – awesome for obliques, hips and thighs
Start lying on the right side with the right elbow directly under the right shoulder, keep your feet pressed together and lift both hips off the ground; pressing your legs together can increase stability and strength; hold for 15-25 seconds (or until you lose stability) alternate sides.
Progress to high plank with the right arm fully straightened, when placing your right hand on the ground externally rotate the shoulder to stabilize the joint and press the hand into the ground; hold for 15-25 seconds then alternate sides.
Medicine ball chop
This exercise uses the muscles of the hips, core and upper back together creating a sleek, lean look while improving movement efficiency. Hold the medicine ball in front of your body, squat down while sitting back into your heels and hips, push your feet into the floor to return to standing, as you stand swing the ball from in front of your body to an overhead position. As you lower the ball sink back into the squat, time the lowering so the ball adds resistance to your hips as your body lowers down. Use a medicine ball that makes 10-12 reps challenging, repeat for 2-4 sets.
Romanian deadlift – single leg Romanian deadlift
Probably one of the more effective exercises for core, hip and back strength, it’s also great for develop a strong (toned) butt and thighs. The single-leg version is probably THE BEST inner thigh exercise available and is great for toning/shaping the upper legs.
Start off holding a weight in front of your body, brace your core to keep your spine straight (do not allow your lower back to round or bend), keep your knees bent and push your hips back while lowering your torso, to return to standing push your feet into the ground and pull yourself up with your glutes and hamstrings (picture pulling the backs of your shorts down to the backs of your knees). Use a weight that makes 8-10 reps challenging, repeat for 2-4 sets.
Balance on your right leg keeping your knee slightly bent, brace your core muscles, bend forward at the hip while keeping the spine straight, straighten your right leg and point the toe to help you pivot on your left hip (pointing your right foot and straightening the leg will help you pivot on the left hip). To return to the starting position, pull your hip back down towards your knee-this will use your glute and inner thigh muscles. If balancing on your left foot, hold a weight in your right hand; 8-10 reps each leg, repeat for 2-4 sets.
Lateral lunge with upper body rotation
The hips, core and shoulders work together to produce movement, this exercise uses them all in a way to improve efficiency, timing and coordination. Step to the right (keeping both feet parallel, as your right foot hits the ground, sink back into the right hip while rotating to the right-rotate at the hip not the spine-rotate back to front, return to standing. To increase intensity and effectiveness hold a medicine or kettlebell in front of your chest. 6-10 reps each leg, repeat for 2-4 sets.
Rotational shoulder press
Train your hips and shoulders together using the oblique and back muscles to connect the movement. Hold the dumbbells in your hands in front of your shoulders, rotate to the right and reach the right arm over head, your feel a stretch from your chest to your hips, rotate to the left and repeat. Use a light weight to learn the movement, 12-15 repetitions, repeat 2-3 sets.
There you go, 4 exercises that use the hips and shoulders to develop core strength.