The benefits of having a strong core span far beyond chiseled abs and improved confidence during swimsuit season. By now, we already know that six-pack abs are made in the kitchen, but a strong core is developed through a deep understanding of the intra-abdominal muscles paired with proper program design and adequate progressions. Strengthening the abdominals is more complex than a few static planks and GHD sit-ups at the end of a training session.
Why is having a strong core important?
First, a strong core, which is independent of those six-pack abs everyone drools over, is essential for stabilizing and protecting the spine. This is a key factor regarding injury prevention because when the core is weak and unable to stabilize dynamic muscular contractions, other muscles begin to compensate.
Second, the stronger your core, the better your athletic performance. A strong core results in a stable pelvis and spine, which connects the upper and lower body. Those with a weak core will suffer greatly when it comes to strength and power movements that involve the entire body. Adequate core strength allows individuals to lift heavier weights, be more explosive, run faster, change directions more quickly and adapt at faster speeds. This is due to being able to efficiently transmit force from the core, through the extremities.
Lastly, a strong core is important for posture. Due to our sedentary lifestyle of desk jobs and Netflix binges, many individuals struggle with a weak anterior core causing the musculature of their hips to tighten and their low back to remain in extension (also known as an anterior pelvic tilt or lower cross syndrome) while their upper back becomes extremely kyphotic (rounded forward). Strengthening the intra-abdominal muscles, as well as the glutes, will help bring the pelvis into a neutral position, thus improving posture along the way. Another big confidence booster!
It is important to understand how to progress an individual to develop a strong core and stable spine. Moving too quickly through the continuum detailed below, or not progressing in the proper order, will result in kinks in the chain, leading to various issues and possibly lack of physical adaptation down the road. Below are ten progressive core exercises moving through a core strengthening framework that will enhance your ability to progress safely for long periods of time!
- Prone without Movement:
These are static core exercises while laying flat or face downward. These are the most common core exercises you see individuals perform and include many plank variations.
Weighted Forearm Plank
Front Leaning Rest
- Prone with Movement:
Building upon the previous stage, this step involves a prone position core exercise with a purposeful deviation of the movement while using the core to try and remain in a stable position. To make this exercise easier, you can move your feet wider apart and to add more difficulty, move your feet closer together to narrow the base of support and provide a more unstable environment. Other examples include movements like front leaning rest shoulder taps, anti-rotational planks on hands moving into a more difficult variation on the forearms.
Reverse Quadruped Crawl
- Tall/Half Kneeling:
The next phase is moving from the prone position into a half-kneeling or tall-kneeling position. This type of exercise becomes more difficult because you are removing two points of contact with the floor to assist in the stabilization process. Instead of using both your upper and lower body to support your core, you are now only using your lower body. You’ll notice as we progress through the continuum of core development, the level of difficulty is based upon the amount of contact you have with the floor to help stabilize.
Tall Kneeling Pallof Press
Half-Kneeling Band Lift
- Bilateral Standing:
Just as it sounds, the next phase involves standing on two feet while performing exercises that utilize the core to provide stability. Begin with static movements and then progress into more dynamic movements. A standing pallof press is an example of a static bilateral standing exercise whereas the standing wood chop or standing medicine ball throw would be examples of a dynamic bilateral standing exercise.
Standing Pallof Press
- Standing Split Stance:
You can make the movements listed above much more difficult by adding a split stance variation and bringing one foot in front of the other. This makes balancing more challenging, requiring your core to work harder in order to stabilize your body.
Split Stance Pallof Press
Split Stance Anti-Rotation Medicine Ball Throw
- Unilateral Standing:
Lastly, the most difficult variation of the continuum is unilateral standing core exercises which involve the balance of only one leg while performing various core exercises. Similar to the examples above but only having one leg as a base of support.
Single Leg Pallof Press
Understanding where an individual sits on this continuum is essential in designing a plan that progresses them forward without missing any key components that will be necessary to support their training. The movements listed above are only a few examples compared to the vast amount of exercises you can use to strengthen your core. Determining which exercises will be a fit is dependant on the individual and their specific objectives, along with an assessment of current core function. This is one of many reasons why an assessment is crucial in creating a program designed to meet the individual's unique needs.
If you are looking for personalized guidance around your training to support your goals and ensure long-term progress both inside and outside the gym, click the link below to speak with a professional Central Athlete coach. We put the pieces together for you by creating a tangible plan in a personalized fashion to ensure your hard work pays off!