Building Core Strength: A New School Concept Best Achieved Old School Style
Sep 18th, 2012
Do you want to build core strength?
Of course you do! It’s too important to ignore, right?
Okay. So how are you going to go about developing a core that’s as solid as an oak tree?
I got it! Do a Google search and see what exercises you can find for developing core strength…
Hip lifts, oblique twists, back bridges, side planks, Supermans… What the crap?
Aren’t these moves the ones I see going on in the geriatrics aerobics class on Mondays at 5:30am? No, wait. I’m never up that early.
I must be thinking of something else.
Surely these exercises aren’t the best way to build core strength, are they?
And do you really need to spend a half hour doing core strength exercises?
Those are good questions! And I’m going to break them down for you.
Getting Past the Core Strength Hype
Core strength is nothing more than a technical term used to describe the strength in a person’s torso area. Specifically, I define the core area as the muscles in the glutes, hips, abs and back, but the list can vary slightly, depending on who you ask.
There are entire systems devoted to building core strength and people are buying them up in droves believing the hype that core strength somehow requires some specialized training plan.
I get that specialized core training is a marketable idea, and I’d also agree that if you want to build superhuman core strength, some specialization is required.
But that isn’t what the average person embarking on a journey to get strong and fit is looking for. They want to build strong abs, ease their back pain or just feel stronger at the center of their being.
Using specialized core training exercises for any of these purposes alone is largely a waste of time.
Before you click away, or start composing your hate mail, please hear me out and understand what I’m saying.
I’m not saying that developing a strong core is a waste of time.
I’m saying that training with the primary purpose of doing so is silly for the average person, because significant core strength development can be achieved with greater overall efficiency (more on this in a moment).
Athletes with specific core strength needs (like my man, Josh Hamilton), those with extremely weak cores, or individuals recovering from injury do not fit this “average person” description.
These peeps have specialized needs and their training plans should reflect that.
The reason specialized core training is a waste of time for the average person lies in the fact that the development of core strength is actually best accomplished using compound lifts they should be performing anyway as part of their training regimen.
The Best Exercises for Core Strength
Do you want to know what the best core developers are? Here they are:
- Breathing squats with 20 rep max weight
- Power cleans and snatches
These are all lifts that are not only the most effective at developing core strength, but are also some of the best for building muscle mass and functional strength – two things most everyone could use a little more of.
When a client approaches me with the goal of building core strength, these are the lifts that I’m sure to include. Sorry Supermans and back bridges, but you didn’t make the cut.
But, then again, these are the lifts I include with just about every training plan because they’re virtually unmatched in terms of the muscle gaining and strength stacking power they inherently possess.
If someone has a special need for developing a crazy level of core strength I’ll throw in some core workout finishers to the end of their training sessions; something like L-sits (using gymnast rings, if they can handle it), suspended planks using gymnast rings, or kettlebell snatches.
But simply including the right compound lifts will be adequate for most.
Efficient Core Development
I’m all about getting the most out of my time training and I assume anyone I’m helping to have the same preference.
My core is solid and as strong as I’ll ever need it to be. It didn’t take hours of specialized core training to get me there.
I simply used old school, compound lifts that require the core to work with high intensity.
If you’re performing any of the lifts in my list above and don’t feel your core working you’re either doing them wrong or you need to add more weight.
Before you can pull a heavy barbell from the ground, or squat a bar upward, your core must first be counteracting the weight with a proportional amount of force.
If it isn’t you won’t be able to pull the bar off the ground when dead lifting, or you’ll crumble underneath the load when squatting.
Old School Still Rules
Far before the term “core strength” had even been conceived guys like Arnold, Frank Zane, Mike Mentzer and Mike Katz were building core strength in herculean proportions.
They didn’t do it by spending hours performing planks and hip lifts. They did it through the combination of compound movements and progressive overload.
Almost a half-century later nothing has changed.
Don’t waste your time with specifically targeting your core.
Your time is better spent developing your core strength while training, and building up, the rest of your body.
Squatting three hundred pounds will do more for your core strength than any number of side planks. So why waste your time on them?
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