by Henry Gould – Aug 2nd, 2019
Back in the early aughts, when Ilan Cumberbirch and I were young whipper snappers at Prince of Wales Secondary School, the biggest fad in fitness was “core”. Everything needed to strengthen the core, regardless of the key muscle group being worked.
You want do curls? Do them on a BOSU ball to work the “core”. Situps? Nope, doesn’t engage the “core” enough. Deadlifts???? Maybe if you can do them 1 legged and blind folded, on a wobble board, then maybe…
“Core” strength seemed to mean different things to different people. To some it was more a sense of overall strength, and the ability to do full body exercises. Ultimately we can look at “core” as the muscles that make up your mid section below the pectorals and above the hips, on both the front and back of the body. This would mean not just abdominals and obliques, but the lower / mid back, and maybe even hip flexors depending on who you ask. Seeing as these muscle groups are essential to almost every movement pattern, it’s no wonder there was a trend towards making them stronger.
That being said, most of us are guilty of neglecting these areas for the larger muscle groups we see as being primary (legs, glutes, arms) meaning abs and lower back can become secondary or even tertiary in our programming. In reality, since this “core” of muscle connects the upper and lower body together, it’s essential to treat these just as importantly as you do the other parts of your training. If you’ve ever pulled a hip flexor, strained your lower back or tweaked an ab muscle, you know that everything shuts down when these key components are taken out of the equation. Kind of like a bicycle with a cracked frame, you’ve got nothing connecting the two working wheels together.
I admit to being guilty of leaving abs or “core” until the end of the workout, but it pays to occasionally start a workout with these exercises. Not only does it serve as a great warmup to whatever else you’re doing, it then makes them a focal point rather than an afterthought.
Some movements to try:
- Place a pad under your knees, then holding a barbell shoulder width apart slowly roll out as far as you can handle
- Hold your breath tightly on the way down, and slowly release on the way up, keeping pressure on the diaphragm
- Do 6-8 reps for 3-4 sets
Lower Back Extensions
- Most gyms have some sort of lower back extension contraption. If not, try locking your heels under an edge of the dumbell rack, or ask a friend to hold your heels down while you do it on the ground (this movement being more of a “negative” movement)
- If it’s becoming too easy, holding a 25lb – 45lb plate against your chest while doing the extensions
- Drive through the heels the entire time to engage the hamstrings as well as the lower back
3-Point Elastic Lat Pulls
- These ones suck, but makes for an almost full body workout. I also couldn’t find a picture so follow the directions carefully.
- Attach an elastic strength band against a heavy fixed object like the edge of a machine or rack, about a foot or two off the ground
- Get down in an upright pushup position, then grab the elastic with one hand and pull towards the body, keeping both feet and one arm on the ground
- There should be tension on the elastic the entire time (it shouldn’t go slack when your hand is fully extended)
- Repeat for 8-10 reps for 3-4 sets