Core training – truth and myth

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Abs of steel? Sixpack? Health? Flat tummy? What is core training all about? Who is it for? What is it for? What exercises are best for it? Why all the hype around it?  What is this core thing anyway? – Your questions (hopefully) answered.

Years of working as a personal trainer and StrongFirst kettlebell instructor I got an increased number of ‘I want to strengthen my core’ responses to my ‘Why are you here?’ question. Core seems to be the hype. Yet, thanks to the popular media out there, many people have misconception on what core strength means, why it is needed and how to achieve it. In this article I attempt to clarify these questions, give you ideas for core strengthening exercises and help you make a difference between useful info and male cattle excrement.

What is the core?

Your core is not only your abs. A sixpack does not equal a strong core. All muscles connected to the spinal column or the pelvis are part of the ‘core’: your abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, diaphragm, spinal erectors, lats, traps, glutes.

What is core strength?

Core ‘strength’ does not mean that these muscles are ‘big’ (I mean bodybuilder big). It rather means that these muscles can work in a coordinated manner. That your brain can send signals so these muscles fire and relax at the right time to compose movement (or stability). So, simply speaking, core strength is ‘all in your head’.

Why is core strength important? – The misconception

Question to you: why do you want to increase your core strength? Aesthetics? Well, I have to disappoint you: a sixpack can be achieved by super-low bodyfat levels. A skinny fella with good genetics and poor core strength can have cheesegrater abs.  Another misconception is that it’s important so it can make you do 300 sit-ups / crunches. Yes, it does work during that movement but it’s like using your iPad as a cutting board: you can use it as one, but that is not its main function.

Why is core strength REALLY important?

Your core’s most important function is to RESIST forces. To keep you from getting injured. To keep you from falling or tilting over. To keep you upright and stable. To keep your body balanced, your spine aligned. (Hence, to protect you from injury.) Have this in mind when training it!

Another function is much more visceral (literally): holding things in and pushing things out of your body. Yes, I am talking about wee and poo. And babies. So – it is essential for correct bodily functions.

How do you NOT train core strength? (The myths)

If I could eradicate 2 things from the gym I see every day they would be these: 1. ab crunches and 2. kettlebell-side-tilty-bendy-moves that make my eyes bleed every time I see it (too often) – please don’t hurt that poor tool! (Windmills are different – but you rarely see a good windmill in gyms.) Crunches are not the devil but 1 – they are not ideal to work your core as it’s intended to work (iPad cutting board) and 2 – they are not too safe on your lower back. The side-tilt-bend… Well, just imagine you have X-ray eyes…. What position is your poor spine in when you ‘hunch sideways’? And under load!!! Ouch, that’s just asking for trouble. Remember: the main function of your core is to STABILIZE and not to move your torso.

How DO you train core strength then?

There are so many ways! Everything anti-rotational (as opposed to rotating it forcefully): loaded carries on one side (balance it!), one-arm swings. Planks, dead bugs, hollow body position. Sitting on a Swiss ball at work instead of a chair. Advanced player? Well, dragon flags, hanging leg raises, human flags can be your game then! (But if you are on that level, this article is nothing new to you!)

Why the hype?

This is a band wagon I happily jump onto. A strong core can prevent pack pain, spinal injuries, help you lift heavy without hurting yourself. As for the aesthetics, it gives you a royal posture (believe me, more people will see that than your abs). And on the long run you’ll stay healthy and mobile even in old age. A strong core is your best ally in performing better at work (no pain = focus), having fun (when your body is fine, it’s more fun to go cycling, playing squash, climbing or walking the dog) and feeling good in general.

Test your core strength – ask me about Functional Movement Screening via email: or ring 07587187802

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