Sunday, January 22, 2012
My Favorite Core Exercises
First, where is your "core"? Well sure it involves your abdominal muscles, that plane of rectangular bricks just waiting to impress the ladies, but it also includes your obliques (on the sides), and even your upper quads and hip flexors. And one part people often forget, it also includes your INNER abdominal wall (that's right, abs work both ways.) To have a strong core is to be able to support yourself under the heaviest weights while maintaining good form and actually assisting the muscles required to lift said weight (like your legs). These are all things I'm quite interested in, as should you be.
First off, let's get one thing straight. I'm talking about training core for strength, not definition. You want rippling abs? Let your diet take care of it. Eat clean and under maintenance calories and you'll get a shredded midsection in no time flat. Incidentally one of my favorite quotes is "train for strength, abs are made in the kitchen," (that's actually kind of a hybrid quote between some of my own analogies and Arnold Schwarzenegger's words.) I hate to say it guys. Crunches don't make you ripped. Broccoli does. Anyway, moving onward.
Training abs for strength means high resistance, heavy loads, and intense reps. You need to get that core used to contracting as hard as possible for as long as possible and sustaining that contraction no matter the cost or strain. Sounds fun right? Let's look at a few of my favorite high intensity ab contraction exercises.
"L" chin-ups- These are my favorite by far. They involve so many muscles I'd have a hard time counting them all, and they require extreme core strength. I usually try to do at least 3-5 sets of these once or twice a week, after my squats. Basically, get into chin up position, hold your legs at a 90 degree angle out in front of you (so your body looks like an "L"), and hold that angle as you complete as many chin-ups as you can. Can't do chin/pull-ups? No worries! You can also do an "L" hang. Just hang from the bar, hold your feet out in front of you, and count to ten. Rest, then do it again. I guarantee you'll feel a burn in this one, and it's an incredible core strength builder.
"V"-ups- Whoa, another letter name exercise! You've probably seen these before. The key to these is keeping it slow and controlled. Basically, lie flat on your back to start, with your arms overhead. Slowly raise your feet while keeping legs straight, while at the same time raising your hands and arms to match the plane creating by your legs. When your arms and legs are parallel, crunch toward your toes (touching them if you can), then descend back to starting position SLOWLY. DO NOT LET YOUR FEET OR HANDS TOUCH THE GROUND. Keep the contraction the entire exercise. Do as many good reps as you can, take a short break, then come back for some more. These are nuts.
Plate/Russian Twist Balance- Want some serious pain? Try these suckers. Hold a plate in your hands (I'd recommend starting off with a 5lb or 10lb plate), and sit narrow-ways on a thin bench (such as a bench press or adjustable bench). Raise your feet up and lean back so you're balancing on your butt, and hold the plate over one side of your body so it is almost touching the bench. In a rapid but controlled and CONSTANTLY contracted motion, twist the plate across your body to the other side, ALMOST touch the bench, and repeat. After twenty to thirty to a gazillion reps of these your core will feel like jello, I promise. Because you're constantly contracting the core, it gets used to a heavy strain for extended periods of time, building some serious strength.
The guy in this video taps the plate on the ground. You CAN do that, but I believe that stopping the motion BEFORE the ground does requires a little more work on your core's part. Up to you.
"Super Slow" Decline Sit-ups- In truth, doing any core exercise "super slow" is a great idea, as it forces your core muscles to remain firmly contracted for longer periods of time, lending itself toward great, useful strength gains. This one is just what it sounds like. Hop on a decline bench, and start doing some damn slow sit-ups. On the way down, stay very slow and controlled, count in your head if you have to. Go very deep, trying to feel even your lowest abs, and DON'T let your back rest on the bench. Start your upward movement just before your upper back touches the bench. This means you'll need to stay quite upright, no hunching forward like you see all those other gym nothings do. Slow and controlled, firm, contracted, and upright. Do 15 reps per set, and you'll be burning all day.
Want an even better burn? Hold a plate or dumbbell over your head while you do these. CRAZY!
This is the best video I could find in regards to FORM, but I have no idea why they call it an incline bench when it's clearly at a decline...
Front Squats- Whaa??? Front squats? I must've been crazy when writing this and accidentally included a leg exercise. WRONG. Front squats are still probably the greatest core workout I regularly do. To front squat, you must hold the bar on the front of your deltoids, and to avoid dumping the bar in the deepest of bottom positions, you must remain as upright as possible while in the hold. With all that weight pressing down on you, guess whose job it is to help keep you upright? That's right! Your core. The heavier the squat, the more work your core does. Try these out sparingly at first, and make sure your form is good. I'll bet you'll see what I mean though, and quickly.
So there you have it, a few of my favorite core exercises geared toward creating massive core strength. Do these on a consistent basis and I guarantee that when you get around to dieting down to low body fat percentage you'll have a midsection to be truly envious of.
Keep it heavy, slow, and controlled. Good luck!