Solid to the Core: 5 Ways to Build a Stronger Midsection
If your answer is six pack abs, then, I will go out on a limb to say that your balance and stability might be lacking.
And I get it.
Getting your abs primed for summer is a big deal. As a matter of fact, getting your abs ready for any time of year can be a momentous occasion. Hey, I too work hard to sculpt a midsection that Michelangelo and Da Vinci would be proud of.
But, while killer abs might be the eye-catching focal point of your midsection, there’s more to your core than a pretty six pack.
The Importance of a Strong Core
Your abdominal muscles, along with your lower back (erector spine) and hip flexors, make up the kinetic chain known as your core. These muscles all work in sync to provide stabilization for your body.
Aside from making you look good, a solid core provides a multitude of functions which help reduce:
- Poor posture
- Back pain
- Lack of power and strength
It’s likely that many of you suffer from one or all the above. In fact, four out of five Americans suffer from consistent lower back pain. Desk jockeys, in particular, are at high risk due to the imbalances created from being sedentary for far too long. As a result, your abdominal, pelvis, hip and back muscles weaken to the point that your core has a difficult time sustaining your upper body. This causes your spine to work overtime to stabilize itself so that your upper body weight doesn’t cause the rest of you to cave in.
But poor posture and back pain aren’t the only problem. A weak core also affects performance. Whether at the gym or on the field, garnering the strength to lift, jump, or throw requires a steady transfer of power from the legs to the upper body and vice verse. A lack of this will impair balance, stability, and flexibility. But more important, it can lead to injury.
It’s time to fix your core once and for all.
How To Fix a Weak Core
It’s quite common to think of core training as comprised of only sit-ups and crunches. Since grade school, we have been taught that this is the only way to tighten up our midsection. While this is far from the truth, abdominal specific workouts are a great starting point. Working your abs – especially the abdominal muscles – can reduce the stress placed on your spine, thus alleviating chronic discomfort.
But this is just one way to fix a weak core.
Remember, your core is made up of many more muscles; muscles that are meant to work together. To train the core effectively, we need to target them all.
Below are 5 exercises to get you started on your path to a stronger core.
The Pallof press is an exercise that targets your abs, oblique, and lats. It’s great for beginners, but, with the right modifications, it can be as tough as nails.
Equipment Required: Cable Pulley
With both hands, grab hold of a D-handle at chest height. Stand with either your left or right side facing the front of the cable pulley. Take a few steps away from the pulley and hold your hands straight out in front of you. Hold this position for a few seconds.
The force created by the selected weight will twist your body causing you to turn towards the pulley. The goal is to prevent your body from twisting and losing stability. Use your core muscles to maintain the applied tension.
I’m sure you’ve seen many people doing planks and questioned its effectiveness. How could an exercise that looks so simple to do, have any effect on your core? Well, if you’ve never done a plank before, you’ll be surprised by how difficult it can be to hold. And, if you’ve been including them in your current workouts, then we have some sweet variations for you.
Equipment Required: Swiss ball (optional)
Lower yourself to a prone position. Hold yourself up with your toes and forearm. Squeeze your glutes and keep your body straight. Maintain the hold for X number of seconds/minutes or for as long as possible.
Swiss Ball plank
Same as traditional but instead of forearms on the floor, place your forearms on a Swiss ball. The height and unsteadiness of the ball will cause you to work harder to stabilize.
At first glance, the RKC plank might look identical to traditional plank. But look a little closer and you’ll notice a few differences that make this variation much more difficult.
The major differences include: elbows closer together to minimize support, greater tension from your quads and glutes; make sure you flex as much as possible. You’ll also find this variation harder to hold that a traditional plank.
Straight arm and leg raised plank
You can also raise an arm or leg while performing on a flat surface. The instability will cause your body to work harder.
Balboa Lying Leg Raise
Ok, so my love for Rocky 4 lead me to rename this exercise. Remember the training montage right before the fight with Drago? If you do, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
With that said, this exercise will be up there in difficulty. However, it’ll provide you with some serious respect points.
Equipment Required: Flat platform or bench
Lie on a flat bench with legs extended straight over the edge of the bench. Grab on to the side of the bench or the area behind your head. Raise your legs at a 90-degree angle with knees slightly bent and locked. Lower your legs slow using your abs for control. Repeat.
Kneeling Cable Crunch
A crunch variations that allows you to stack on the weight for greater tension.
Equipment Required: Cable Pulley, Rope or V-handle
Attach the handle to a cable pulley and kneel down in front of it. With your face facing the ground, pull the rope around the back of your neck to get into the starting position. Contract your abs and bring your upper body down so that your elbows are tucked close to your quads. Go back to the starting position. Repeat.
The goal is to avoid pulling with your back and arms and instead use your abs to drive your upper body.
No, you won’t be killing bugs. Yes, performing this will make you look like one. And YES, your core will thank you for it. Also, if you suffer from anterior pelvic tilt produced back pain, dead bugs will encourage more posterior pelvic tilt to help alleviate the pain.
Lie on your back with hands raised straight up and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Bring your back flat against the floor leaving no gap beneath your rear lumbar. To make sure that your back is flushed, try to pass your hand underneath. If your hand can get through, you need to exhale harder, bring your ribcage down, and try to flush your back once more. This is the starting position.
Next, while keeping your right arm straight, bring it down towards the side of your head. At the same time, bring your left leg down and straighten it so that it’s extended parallel to the ground. Your back is going to want to arch. Don’t let it! Make sure you keep your pelvis and lumbar in the same position at all times while bracing your midsection. Hold this position for a few seconds. Bring your right arm and left leg to the starting position and repeat with your other arm and leg.
The importance of a strong core should not be neglected. Apply these core variations to your next workout routine and start building a stronger midsection today.
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