Here’s a list of things I’ve avoided in life:
- Fist fights
- Hard manual labor
- Any class that involved reading
- Getting arrested
- Fighting games
Hand me a strategy game, a shooter, or an RPG, and I’m good. Except for Super Smash Brothers, I avoid games like Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, and Street Fighter because I suck at them. I have no idea why. But since the first day I walked over to the Mortal Kombat arcade machine at my local skating rink, I’ve been decimated by everyone I’ve ever played.
Maybe it’s the fact that I only use the same two or three moves. Or because I have a personal hatred for using the “block” button—my biggest downfall in Smash Brothers. Still, no matter how much I try or how many quarters I spent as a kid, I always got my ass handed to me. It’s the core reason I’ve avoided fist fights as well because I’d wind up losing. Speaking of core, did you know there are 15 different definitions of the word?
Merriam-Websters, for some reason, decided to skip over adding a definition pertaining to your physical core musculature. Which, if you ask a handful of different people at the gym, could be defined in a half a dozen different ways.
Core ≠ abs
Of course, your abdominals are a part of your core, but it’s comprised of more muscles than your six-pack.
Your core is comprised of the:
- Erector Spinae
- Rectus abdominis
- Obliques (internal and external)
- Deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis and muscles of the pelvic floor
Hell, even your glutes and your lats act as stabilizers and can be considered part of your core. It’s all connected and it all works together to keep you more stable and prevent you from destroying your spine.
Compound lifts like squats and deadlifts will strengthen your core. But, if you want to increase those lifts at a higher rate you need to develop more core strength outside of only those lifts. If you skip training your core, you’re missing out on leveling up your strength at a higher rate. But what you’re really missing out on is developing more explosive power.
Steady as She Goes
I mentioned above that your core works to stabilize your body in every movement you make. But it also functions as an important transference point. Let’s say you were in a street fight and you had the ability to throw a Shoryuken or even a Hadouken. Those two moves could help you win the fight.
IF you had a strong and powerful core.
Besides stabilization, your core is the largest transference point of power in your body.
Whether you’re creating force from the ground up to uppercut your opponent or to deliver one hell of a right hook, if you have a weak core, your body won’t be able to create or transfer its maximum amount of force.
Feel the Force Flow Through You
Force production is important in everything from running, performing an Olympic lift, grabbing that heavy suitcase to toss up on the conveyor belt at the security terminal, or reaching for the best top shelf whiskey high above at the liquor store (<—it’s a scientific fact).
Building a strong and powerful core takes more than squats, deadlifts, and endless sets of crunches, sit-ups, or hanging leg raises.
When I build core training for my clients, I focus on three movements that not only strengthen and increase stabilization but also help increase the transfer of power through the body.
Power to the People
One of the first places to start with building core strength and stability is planks.
Planks show up one way or another with all of my clients. They require ZERO equipment and there are a ton of variations, that with the smallest of tweaks, continually make them more challenging.
You can read here about a few advanced plank variations. Including my favorite creation, the Tetris Plank.
This flexibility allows a whole host of ways to challenge cores strength and stability over the long term.
As much as I love planks, sometimes, I have clients who find holding a plank for 30 seconds is either extremely difficult at first, or, they’re intimidated by them and find themselves discouraged attempting the exercise.
We all have exercises or movements that discourage us; I have my own.
Here’re a few reasons people struggle with planks:
- An overall weak core
- Weak arms and shoulders
- They’re unable to engage and squeeze the glutes
In this case, I opt instead to train them with my (other) favorite core stability movement: the Pallof Press. Not only are you in a more stable standing position for this movement, but it’s easier to add more resistance via weight with Pallof Presses. And let’s be honest, no one really feels like they’re working out if there isn’t weight involved, right?
The biggest reason I prefer to use the Pallof Press is because most everyday activities involve you reaching for objects high above you, bracing yourself when your kids or dog run to jump on you, or reaching down to start your lawn mower.
Proper core training focuses on resisting:
- Extension of your trunk (Cobra pose in yoga is an example of trunk extension)
- Anti-rotational forces (Think catching a heavy ball to your side and fighting the pull of the ball backward)
- Posterior pelvic tilt (this picture)
That’s what’s so great about The Pallof Press, it hits all of those criteria. Also, like planks, there are numerous ways to advance the Pallof Press.
Robbie, you’ve covered how you can build a stronger and more stable core with planks and Pallof Presses.
But what about all the power transfer business you mentioned earlier? I need to level up my Shoryuken.
Developing a stronger core than can transfer massive amounts of power, will not only help you better perform the Olympic lifts (should you decide to learn them), but it will also help in everyday activities like ripping the garbage bag out of the trash can, playing basketball, throwing a baseball, or chopping wood.
Let’s go over a few of my favorite rotational enhancing exercises.
These are one of the first non-crunch ab exercises I ever performed in a gym. Woodchoppers are a fantastic way to train explosive rotational power.
You can perform them at a low, mid, or high level. When you perform woodchoppers, don’t worry about using heavy weight, that’s not the goal here. A light to moderate weight is all you need.
From the starting position, pull the weight with as much power and force as you can exert. Pause at the fully extended position and control the weight (the eccentric portion) on the way back to the starting position.
Med Ball Rotational Slams
Know what this movement kind of looks like? At the end of the movement, after you’ve thrown the ball, it looks like you delivered a Hadouken.
Some gyms, even if they have med balls, may get a wee cranky if you slam them against a wall. Always make sure to ask first if you can do it. If your gym allows it, then get ready to connect with your inner Ryu.
Holding a medicine ball (or slam ball), stand perpendicular to a wall. If you have a partner you can throw it to them as well. Throw the ball as hard as fucking can at the wall while rotating at your hips. For an added bonus: use the rebound (or a throw back from your gym partner) to gain additional anti-rotational strength from absorbing the ricochet back.
This is by far one of my favorite exercises. Not only for its ability to build explosive power in your core but because it’s a great full body movement that can really turn up your metabolism. I discovered this exercise a couple of years ago, thanks to the great Nick Tumminello aka The Trainer of Trainers. And it’s now a staple in my all of my clients’ programming.
Here’re a couple of tips I took from Nick on this exercise:
- If your goal is total body pushing strength, use heavy Dumbbells as this will force more power and strength from your legs to help drive the Dumbbells overhead.
- Use this within a metabolic conditioning circuit for an added caloric burn.
- Always rotate from your hips, turning your foot in toward the middle of your body on each rep.
- Maintain good posture (don’t lean over) and find your best rhythm through the exercise. Don’t try and go 100% at first, slowly ramp up till you find a speed that challenges you while you remain in complete control.
Build Stable Power
Ryu didn’t spend his days performing endless sets of crunches.
He had to develop one hell of a strong core that could handle a few Blanka or E. Honda punches. But he also needed a powerful and stable core to deliver the final blow to his opponents.
When it comes to building more strength and power in your core, leave the crunches on the sideline for a while.
Focus on building a core that can transfer and exert enough power from your toes to your hips, into your shoulders, arms, and all the way up to your fist so you can deliver one hell of a Shoryuken.