Every muscle relies on your abs, hips, and lower back, a.k.a. your core! It’s your base, and building it into this solid and powerful platform will benefit you immeasurably. It is also your centre of attraction! Concentrating on creating a strong and powerful core is one sure fire way of ensuring you deliver more force when working out or training. It will help you overcome everyone’s Achilles heal – the dreaded plateau – and ensure your training reaches a whole new level.
SSM has teamed up with Personal Trainer and Muscle-In team member, Craig Monaghan, who details the significance of effectively exercising the core, whilst also looking at five firm favourites that should figure in your exercise armoury.
Including core exercises is crucial to shape your body posture, whilst improving body alignment. When your core is strengthened, which helps maintain balance, the main body is supported, allowing other key body parts relax, such as the neck and shoulders. Free movement of the limbs then ensues in this state.
Alongside a reinforced core promoting improved posture, it will help massively in terms of delivering more power and endurance in almost all sports. Take, for example, a rugby player in the backs whose job it is to not only have the power of a sprinter, but the ability to cut lines at a fast time. Watch Sale Sharks winger and England prospect, Tom Brady, to see how his core reacts to his centre of gravity. In less than half a metre he can penetrate a gap with barely any effort.
A strong core also keeps injuries at bay! Is this not what all sportsmen and women are keen to avoid? Statistics in Britain taken from Google scholar highlight that around 85% of the population will at some point suffer from back related issues. This might not concern you and others in their late teens and early twenties, but the risk can be infinitely lowered by doing the core exercises shown here! Recent science states that even a simple squat can have an excellent impact on your abs/core.
As already intimated, maintaining a good posture is a must. This isn’t rocket science, and whilst core training can go a long way to help correct poor posture, it is no substitute for ensuring you focus on the basic techniques in your everyday student life. Keeping your head up, shoulder blades back and down, and staying tall through the hips for as long as possible, particularly when sitting in front of a computer or laptop, is key.
Finally, irrespective of whatever exercise you’re performing, it is important to remember that the core muscles engage first! From here energy transmits to the arms and legs giving you the full force to lift and move. The equation is therefore a simple one – the stronger your core, the more you will be able to lift or move effectively.
As with any body part or muscle group, different trainers have different views as to what works and what doesn’t, and ultimately the choice remains an individual one.
Personally I train my abs every session I’m in the gym, so around 5 times a week. I prefer to set aside around 15 minutes at the end of a training session. Whilst as with any training schedule variety should be encouraged, three sets of 12 reps of oblique twists, medicine ball sit ups and general sit ups, and three sets of 60 seconds planks and side planks definitely do the trick.
5 TOP CORE EXERCISES
This single exercise move will give you rock hard abs. It develops strength not just in the core but shoulders, arms and glutes. And it’s harder than it looks.
From a push-up position on the floor, bend the elbows 90 degrees and take your weight on the forearms. The elbows should be directly beneath the shoulders, and the body should follow a straight line from the head to toe. The aim is to hold the position for as long as you can and then increase it every time the exercise is performed.
Once you can hold the plank for more than two minutes, consider moving to the tougher variation – the side plank!
The Side Plank
This again works the entire core, however it particularly targets some of the weaker muscles, reducing the risk for lower back pain, helping you become a better athlete and looking better than ever in the process.
Lie on your left side with the knees straight. Prop the upper body up on the left elbow and forearm. Position the elbow under the shoulder. Brace the core by contracting the abs forcefully as if about to be punched in the gut. The hips should be raised until the body forms a straight line, including the head, from the ankles to the shoulders. Having the position for as long as possible, turn around and repeat on the right side.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that the ab wheel has been around for a long time. It certainly isn’t a gimmick. In fact if you want shredded, rock solid abs it’s great at making you work for them. This is a tough exercise, but one of the best at developing core stability needed to get and perform stronger.
Here, the best route to progressing to a higher level (see below) is to start from a kneeling position, where your upper body is as high as possible. Keeping the feet off the ground and with the knees better protected using a training mat, place the ab roller on the floor in front of you. Slowly roll forward, stretching the body into a straight position. It is important to breath in whilst doing so. The aim is to go down as far as you can without the body touching the floor. After a pause at the stretched position, start pulling yourself back to the starting position and breathe out. Going slowly and keep the abs and glutes tight at all times is essential.
Standing Roll-outs (advanced)
Technically the correct way to perform an ab roll-out, doing so from standing position is something that you need to build up to. Whilst it looks easy, the reality is it isn’t. It is important to work your way up to performing ab wheel roll-outs in this way, as after trying to splay the body on the ground a couple of times most people realise how difficult it is!
Start with the wheel at your feet, with the arms and legs straight. Now simply roll the wheel out until the body is laid out as far as it can go, but under control. Then pull everything back until the hands and feet come back together.
Medicine Ball Side-to-Side (seated 45-degree)
Not only will this exercise strengthen the abdominals and obliques, if done intensively it is effective at increasing the all-important heart rate.
Sit on the floor with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor (easier) or raised up off the floor (more difficult). Contracting the abs, sit at about a 45 degrees angle. Holding the medicine ball with both hands directly in front, contract the abs, twisting slowly from the torso to your right to touch the medicine ball to the floor beside you. Quickly, but smoothly, contract your abs and twist the torso and touch the medicine ball to the other side. This should be repeated for the desired number of reps.
The addition of this exercise instantly increases the challenge to your balance and core, whilst also promoting much needed hip mobility. It also serves to load one side (or limb) of your body at a time to make any bodyweight exercise much more focused and intense.
Begin by assuming a standard push-up position. Then, as you lower your body toward the floor, lift your right foot and swing your right leg out sideways, trying to touch the knee with the elbow. The movement should then be reversed, pushing the body back to the starting position. On the next repetition, this movement should be mirrored, whereby the left knee touches the left elbow. Repeat back and forth subject to ability and fitness.
So there you have it. However don’t forget that what you get out depends upon what you put in. You must be prepared to put the effort in and go the distance. At the end of the day, it’s all about training hard and remaining focused.
*Photographs by Alan Janaszek