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Core Strength: More Than Itís Cracked Up To Be

If you’re like most meatheads, the second you read the title to this piece you laughed and said, “I don’t need core strength, that’s for pansies.” I know, you don’t want to hear about all the ways you can roll around on an exercise ball, do leg raises and side bends. OK, fine, you don’t like that stuff, but you do realize that a strong core will improve the rest of your body, don’t you?

As with everything in our body, one thing often affects another. Leg training releases hormones throughout the body that promote muscle growth throughout. Back training stimulates the muscles in our forearms and biceps. The list can go on and on and it should be no surprise that this applies to the abs and core as well.

Why It’s Important:

A strong midsection promotes proper posture. It helps with spinal alignment, and will help with the rest of your lifts -- making you stronger. A strong midsection and core will promote a better overall physique. With a strong core you can squat heavier weight, you can push more weight over you head during military press, you have more force to pull from during deadlifts  -- and it creates better posture (and it does) and it improves your spinal alignment for perfect form on every move.

Training the core sucks. That’s really the only way to put it; it’s not fun. It burns, it hurts and the movements and exercises themselves are simply downright boring. There is good news, however. There are things you can incorporate into your regular lifting routine that will vastly improve your core strength and your midsection.

Full Body Squats:

They may seem like a joke to many of you, but if done correctly you will be left in agony! The idea behind these is to simply learn the form and learn how contract more of the muscles in your body when squatting rather than simply your legs. Once you have mastered this, begin incorporating these techniques into your regular squats.

How To:

  • Place your feet slightly less than shoulder width apart, toes pointed straight ahead.
  • Keep your hands above your head, arms extended out the entire time in line with your ears.
  • Squeeze your rear end as hard as you can the entire time, from start to finish.
  • Squeeze and hold your abs as tight as you can the entire time from start to finish.
  • Lower into a squat position very slowly holding everything tight as mentioned above.
  • Squat as if sitting in a chair, keeping your torso and back in line throughout.
  • Repeat.
It may not sound like much, but if done correctly your core will be on fire! Try fifteen reps of this exercise and if your abs don’t burn, you’ve done something wrong. If this is the case, reexamine the bullet points above and figure out what you’ve done wrong.

Planks/Bridge:

One of the oldest exercises in the book and one of the best for the abs, lower back and the entire core. As beneficial as these are, they are as boring as counting the hairs on your head. But with a slight variation to the exercise, you can add some flavor to a rather tasteless exercise.

How To:

  • Lay face down on a mat holding yourself up on the tips of your toes, elbows and forearms.
  • Keep your feet and arms shoulder width apart throughout.
  • Once you are in position, as you did with the full body squats, squeeze your entire core and rear end the entire time.
  • Hold the position at the top for a count of 5.
  • After the count of 5, lower your entire body towards the floor in perfect alignment keeping your back straight the entire time.
  • Your shoulder blades should contract towards each other.
  • Your legs, stomach, chest and face should all reach the bottom at the same time, but you never completely reach the ground, stop about an inch short keeping the tension tight the entire time.
Again, this may not sound very difficult, but try ten reps and if you’re not on fire then you did something wrong. Many will lower their hips ahead of their upper body, completely negating the entire exercise and simply wasting their time; DON’T be this person!

There is one very important aspect you need to understand about all of this; adding in these exercises is not going to provide you a ripped six-pack any more than crunches or leg raises do. If you desire a ripped six-pack the only thing that will provide this is low body fat. That means diet and cardio are your best friend for this goal. What these variations will provide is added core strength, in turn providing for a better and stronger overall physique.

The Plan:

Try these tips for six-to-eight weeks. As you use these tools, keep a log of the rest of your training and watch your numbers go up. Be sure to keep a very close eye on your form with both of these movements listed above. Seek a second set of eyes while doing these, especially in the beginning. It is very easy to let your form slip on these movements when fatigue kicks in. The slightest mishap in form on either exercise will severely reduce the positive benefits. Find a partner to try these exercises with and make sure they have an understanding of the movements so that they can correct you when you slip up.

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