Do you actually train your core?
The aim of the game is for you to be strong and functional in every situation you are placed in. This doesn't just mean when you're in a gym setting but also in competition, everyday postures playing with your kids and working at your desk. Many people train themselves to lift a weight in one position, but they are missing a trick. Your core is a 360 degree structure around your spine, not the classic Peter Andea mysterious girl picture people love to think is a strong core.
A tool that I use with my athlete's and clients are loaded carrie's. Yes they seem simple but these movements actually develop core strength and increase abdominal pressure during heavy lifts. And no, this isn’t the next fad bullshit ab crunch that people associate core training with.
Testing someone’s physical and mental endurance is one thing using exercise such as planks etc. But this isn’t increasing abdominal strength, this is increasing abdominal strength endurance. Is there a major difference? of course. Both should be used and understanding why/how to use them is as important.
Loaded carries are extremely effective for true core development as well as being one of the most versatile lifts in the gym. These can be used for anything from conditioning, strength or even a warm up. Whether you are wanting to build muscle, improve endurance or just get stronger, loaded carries will increase your overall performance and prevent injury.
To clarify, core does not refer to your six pack. Your ‘core’ refers to a 360 degree strength around your spine. Here’s an image of your core:
We also need to understand that we don’t just have a six pack we have a band of muscle around our spine called our ‘Transverse abdominals’ as well as others below which provide your ‘core’ with most of its strength. Using a variety of carries we can target the core from all angles and thus building 360 degrees of strength though out the body.
Muscles involved in our core:
Rectus abdominis- Cause's Flexion
Erector spinae- Cause's Extension
Internal and External obliques- Rotation and stability
Seratus Anterior- Stabaliser of the scapular and spine
Glute- Hip Extension, Pelvis stabiliser
Transverse abdominis- thoracic and pelvic stability through rib compression.
6 pack abs doesn't mean strong and stable core. The aim is to increase pressure, to increase size and strength of the abdominal wall. Nothing comes close to actually lifting some heavy weight doing a squat or a deadlift. The reason for this is due to inter-abdominal pressure. Being able to brace and stabilise under load causes physical and strength hypertrophy of all the core structure's above. Allowing you to lift more weight and be safer during life and training.
Then the question is what are the most specific core exercises for populations aiming to get stronger and more stable? Loaded carries are extremely effective and can be used as an activation or priming exercise or can be placed as a finisher.
Training with loaded carries will place body under enough load to illicit a training response (strength, hypertrophy and conditioning) Whilst being safe. Here are some variations to choose from:
Farmers carries: (pic above)
Pick up two weights that are 50% of your body weight and walk. Easy! The aim is to be able to walk with body weight in your hands for 20m-40m. So you can use this for building grip strength or use it as a loaded conditioning element in a circuit.
Zurcher or Front rack carry (below)
This lift is used to train the core muscles on the front. By having a weight in your arms, you will work your abs and core muscles to keep you in an upright position. This lift will teach you to be able to maintain a stable spine whilst moving.
The aim is to keep an upright position whilst holding a weight with one hand. This will train your core from a lateral (side) perspective. This is a great exercise to use if your side plank is week and or your core hasn’t been conditioned to be strong whilst fatigued.
This carry is ideal for someone who has shoulder stability issues. Being able to carry heavy weights above your head will train all you balancing and protective muscles in your shoulders as well as build strong traps and delts. If you guys are practicing handstands this is a must as you teach your body to be able to keep an effective position whilst loading your upper body.
These should be performed for time before adding extra load. If you can maintain strong position for over 60s then increase the load.
Exceptions to using these variations are if you have just had a child then please consult a doctor and pre natal specialist first.