24 Mindset Shifts and Fact About the Core

Posted: March 29, 2016 by dannytwoguns in Articles

We specialize in “middle aged” females and with that comes the inevitable “menopause belly” and for those not quite there yet, hormonal issues related to the same area. Twoguns Rockstar, Netty talks about just that in her guest blog, check it out if you havent. And it tends to be the place that females or all ages after puberty, hormonally, tend to store bodyfat. That is part of the reason that the “core” has become such a buzzword and a popular “problem area”.

It also leads to a lot of fitness misinformation because it is such a popularly targeted area. The more popular something is the more bad information and snake oil there is on it and something as buzzy and popular as the core, I dont know if high quality information can overpower all the misinformation, but Im going to try 🙂

So here’s 24 mindset shifts / random thoughts / myth debunking facts all about the “core”

1 – The best exercise for your midsection will always be table pushbacks.

What are table pushbacks, you say? It is when you have a bunch of food on a plate in front of you and you push it away 🙂 AKA a comical way of saying that “abs are made in the kitchen”.

The best ab exercise is broccoli.

2 – Spot reduction isnt real. Doing endless crunches will not burn the fat off your midsection. You cant spot reduce fat, with training or diet. No amount of core or core isolation work is going to burn fat off your midsection. The body works as a unit and burns fat and builds muscle as a unit, you can spot increase muscle mass to a point but spot reducing fat doesnt exist. Sometimes I cant believe that that still is a thing that needs debunked.

3 – Speaking of crunches – it amazes me people are still doing these. There is so much research in abundance on the deleterious effects of constant spinal flexion being harmful to your spine that this is one of the no brainers in the fitness profession. Plus it promotes the exact posture we are trying to fix.

3a – Im not saying all (unloaded) spinal flexion is bad, we need to be able to flex the spine. Just not repeatedly over and over under load doing crunches (more on this later).

4 – “Drawing in” and “bracing” are not the same thing. Drawing in is detrimental and disadvantageous to any goal we want and bracing aka “putting your armor on” is how the can support the core, lower back etc and make everything stronger.

5 – Speaking of bracing, “hard” or bracing type exercises that require tension and “hard” stability is only one aspect of the core. Reflexive stability or the ability to fire quickly and transfer force is a pivotal and often overlooked aspect of the core.

6 – Your core is essentially the trunk of your body in which appendages come out of. Too often the core is simply thought of as “the six pack” muscles or the abs in front. But the anatomical core is similar to a cylinder. By that I mean it has… (one could also argue the glutes belong here too)…

A front – “six pack” / ab muscles
A back – spinal erectors / lower back muscles
Sides – Obliques, Transverse Abdomins / “love handle” area
A top – Diaphragm / Breathing or Respiration muscle
A bottom – Pelvic Floor

Cylinder

7 – This is one of the best core exercises we have. It is one of the best pelvic floor exercises we have in our arsenal as well as reflexive stability and anti-extension. We call it “Bubblegum Fart Ball” even though that isnt its real name.

 

8 – Position matters. The overextended / rib flare position leaks energy. “Ribs down and in” with thorax (upper part of your trunk) directly aligned over your pelvis/hips is the goal. An analogy I use with clients is if there is a force coming straight down through your head from above, everything should be stacked to stabilize, there should be no bending backwards (extending aka instagram posture) or being forward (flexing aka slumped over the desk sitting posture).

9 – Core stability is definitely related to mobility. “Tight muscles” is very rarely the case for lack of mobility (though it sometimes/rarely is). The ability to stabilize is under-emphasized and a major player in mobility. It is why some people can touch their toes seated but cannot do the same while standing.

It isnt hamstring tightness if they can do it seated even though they may feel tone/tension in the hamstrings while standing. It is lack of stability in the core and/or hips that is preventing them.

10 – “You cant shoot a cannon out of a canoe” is still one of the best analogies for stability needing to precede power/strength training. You have to have the adequate foundation in order to build on it. Be a battleship, not a canoe.

11 – Training and loading the core is about the “Anti”…

Anti-Rotation (resisting rotation)
Anti-Extension (resisting the spine extending or what would look like a back bend)
Anti-Flexion (resisting the spine flexing or what look look like a crunch or bending forward)
Anti-Lateral Flexion (resist the spine bending the the side)

It is why a Pull Up in the top few of the highest core musculature activation in EMG studies. It is meant to resist the movement that happens around it.

12 – Number 11 referenced loading and training the core through “Anti” type exercises. One of the most misinformed aspects when it comes to the core and more particularly, the spine, is that while unloaded it shouldnt move at all.

This isnt true.

What we do under load and what we dont without load are too completely different things. A spine unloaded needs to be able to move and excurse range of motion. It is why people who have back pain have trouble moving certain parts of their spine and people who dont have back pain, can move it more freely. The lack of it being able to move is part of the pain.

Unfortunately, this “bullet point” needs its own full length post with pictures and videos but the main point is, what the spine/core needs to do in deadlifts and loaded exercises is not what it needs to do unloaded and in regular movements. (I reiterate this point a little different later.)

13 – An inconspicuous way to really hit the core is to perform exercises while really “owning” the 1/2 Kneeling position aka, being on one knee.

8 20 PF R Half Kneel RT Chop

This is a Chop pattern done from 1/2 Kneeling. Im going to talk about the Chop itself in 14 but this point is simply about 1/2 Kneeling and its demand on the core. It is essentially standing on one leg, without the stimulus on the ankle, so we get the same benefit, just slightly more stable which allows us to do more things.

14 – The 1/2 Kneeling Chop as seen above bringing the weight across via down and in and the 1/2 Kneeling Lift (bringing the weight across via up and out) is a great example of a sneaky core exercise. You move the implement 3-dimensionally and diagonally on a stable torso so it has to not only resist a diagonal and three dimensional force but has to do so from an asymmetrical base. Double the core demand, double the benefit.

The key is to really focus on that 1/2 Kneeling posture and nothing moves except your arms and the implement. The way the core does in life and true movement.

15 – When training the core, increasing load is initially a lot less effective than manipulating levers or points of stability to challenge the movement. The longer the lever the more load and torque. Same goes the for decreasing points of stability like lifting an arm or leg on plank variations.

16 – Training of the core should progress as in the neurodevelopmental model. Supine (on your back) to sidelying to quadruped (on all fours) to 1/2 Kneeling (one knee as above) or Tall Kneeling (on two knees), transitional (move through prior components) and then integrated. You can do these at the same time if ability allows in the situation, but there is value in owning all of those postures, especially post pregnancy or injury.

16a – As in regular training progressions, you have to own the sagittal plane (front to back) before you can move on to frontal plane (side to side) and transverse plane (rotationally). One builds off the prior. And you need all of them. Too many training programs solely emphasize front to back and up and down aka the sagittal plane. Real life doesnt work this way.

16b – If you think Dead Bugs are “just an easy exercise” it is extraordinarily likely you are cheating through them or performing them incorrectly. Your neck needs to be neutral, you lower back has to be on the ground, your ribs have to be “down and in” and the up knee has to be at or above hip height and the down leg needs to (progress to) fully straightened but not on the ground.

12 11 Mandi Good Dead Bug

17 – There are “schools of thought” in the functional training community that will say if you arent standing and stabilizing, you arent training the core in a truly “functional” manner. And I dont necessarily disagree, but the caveat has to be mentioned that you have to build up to being able to do that from a progression/regression standpoint.

Thus doing things in the positions and postures talked about earlier (supine, quadruped, kneeling etc) that build the foundation for standing and stabilizing are inherently functional because they are serving that same function. So their function is to build to more “functional core patterns” which inherently makes them functional. Sorry for the word game haha.

18 – We sit too much, which puts our hip into flexion (the position your hip is when you sit is called flexion of the hip/shortening the hip flexor) and that leads to them potentially being “tight” in people.

We can debate about hip flexor stretching later but the point here is that just because we spend too much time sitting doesnt mean we shouldnt train the core via hip flexion with things like mountain climbers (done correctly), pikes, leg lowerings etc. It builds a stable core and also influences vital movements, like gait and sprinting.

Renee Pike

19 – We teach bracing and stiffness of the midsection and core during exercises to create stability and we need to. But as also need to be able to not walk through life like a robot who can only brace his core and spine. The spine and core need to move in a soft, reflexive way in low threshold activities like walking. It is one of the harder things to tackle with “lower back” people who need to strengthen their core. They get so tied up in high threshold things that they never get stronger in the other half of the battle, reflexive things like walking. Hence the injury cycle of that person continues.

20 – Typical “bro” exercises that have gone to the wayside as a result of the functional training era like rows, bench press and military press can become great core exercises when you do them asymmetrically/1 arm at a time (typically with dumbbells or kettlebells) and do them heavy.

One of the sorest my obliques/side area ever were was when I did a heavy one arm kettlebell press training session by Dan John.

21 – Loaded Carries are an underutilized and extreme bang for your buck collection of core exercises. Pick up something heavy, whether its at your sides, “in the rack” or overhead, stabilize and carry it at a steady pace.

22 – Speaking of “bang for your buck,” I get asked rather often what the best core exercise is or some variation of that question, sometimes along with holding a piece of their midsection (in which I reference what is said in #2). The first thing I’ll say is that the best core exercise depends on you, because where you are strong, where you are weak, what you need overall and everything in between will determines that best exercises for you.

With that said, if pressed to choose, I would probably go with the Ultimate Sandbag (USB) Single Leg Diagonal Bag Drag. Asymmetrically moving implement on an asymmetrically loaded base gives a ton of bang for your buck.

But it is advanced and assumes you’ve mastered the USB Lateral Bag Drag, the USB Single Leg Lateral Bag Drag, the USB Diagonal Bag Drag and all other global pre-requisites for it to be the best fit for you.

 

22a – Id be remiss if I didnt also mention the Turkish Get Up as one of the best bang for your buck core exercises as well. It wont give you the same “ab burn” the USB Single Leg Diagonal Bag Drag will but it is just as effective. “What muscle does that work?” The answer is yes. Mobility, stability and strength wrapped in one great exercise.

 

23 – When we talked about the “cylinder” earlier we mentioned the diaphragm as the top of that cylinder. It is an integral part of the core and needs to be trained just like any other muscle. We do that through breathing exercises.

This can be a ridiculous rabbit hole to jump down and I wont do that here. But for the most part, breathing is not the same thing as respiration and owning our inhales and exhales fully and deeply has a lot of value and is actually something people are not very good at and should be. This goes for in relaxed postures as well as in lifting and doing exercises.

24 – If you cant touch your toes, the best core exercise for you is exercises that get you to or promote you touching your toes. We often talk about “things that make you human”. Touching your toes is one of the foundations. As is getting your arms overhead without arching your back/flaring your ribs or unlocking your elbows. An advanced one is having the ability to deep squat (it doesnt have to be under load, but you have to be able to do it).

Squat Bottom

Squat low and squat often 🙂

That wraps up our 24 fun facts about the core. If you have any thoughts, questions or elaborations on any points, feel free to send me a message at the Twoguns Training Systems facebook page and let me know.

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