How important is core strengthening?
It’s crucial, but most people go about it the wrong way.
Most people do ACTIVE core exercises when they should be doing ANTI core exercises.
Let me explain.
Active core exercises are those in which your core-your spine, basically-is moving.
In a crunch or situp, your spine is actively flexing to bring your torso up.
In a dumbbell side bend, your spine is moving laterally, or side to side.
In a cable wood-chop, your spine is rotating, or twisting, to the side.
Now, don’t get me wrong-your spine CAN do this, and it IS built to move.
It’s just quite easy to get injured with these exercises when loading them.
For a lot of people, doing these exercises is like doing this to your spine.
You are much better off doing exercises where your spine is NOT moving, but your core musculature is forced to resist movement and stabilize.
So, instead of a flexion exercise like a crunch, do an anti-extension exercise, for example something like a plank.
Your abs are contracting to hold the position and resist gravity, but you aren’t manhandling your spine.
Progress to the ab wheel rollout from the knees.
Again, your spine shouldn’t be moving at all during the movement, but trust me, your abs are working overtime.
You can progress to doing it from your feet.
If you can do this, your abs are incredibly strong, even if you’ve never done a crunch in your life.
An exercise called “stir-the-pot” is also very challenging and wonderful.
It forces your entire core to actively resist extension and stabilize.
Make small circles in both directions with your arms on the ball.
Make sure it’s inflated enough before you try this, or you’ll end up on a YouTube fail video.
For the obliques, instead of doing side bends, you can do anti-lateral flexion exercises like side planks. Same concept, active versus anti.
You can throw in some leg raises if you want to show off like this lady is. Look at that smug grin!
Core Exercises for Women
You can also do a suitcase carry, walking with a dumbbell in one hand.
Finally, a waiter walk adds yet another layer of difficulty. Not sure why he’s doing it outside.
Maybe going to a kettlebell convention, they seem very popular nowadays.
Instead of doing a woodchop, try out an anti-rotation movement like the pallof press.
During the set, you are just pushing the rope out in front of you and then returning it back to your chest; your torso doesn’t move at all. It’s tough!
Core Exercises at Gym
Finally, exercises like deadlifts, back extensions and front squats are actually very effective anti-flexion exercises.
The bar is trying to pull your spine into flexion, and your transverse abdominus and spinal erectors must resist that.
Yes, the lower back is part of your core too!
Doing these anti exercises will be JUST as effective as active ones, and your back will thank you later.
Don’t believe me? In the words of Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the world’s most foremost spinal researchers:
“There are only so many bends in your spine until the discs eventually herniate.”
Geoffrey Verity Schofield, Health Consultant