Although just about everyone who’s interested in fitness training uses the term “core,” most are unaware that the term was first coined in 1982 to describe the muscles which compromise the center of the body and control the head, neck, ribs, spine and pelvis (1).
In other words, you core isn’t just your abs and lower back; your core is made up of all of the muscles of your torso, including your glutes, lower back, mid-back, lats, shoulders and chest, along with your abs and obliques.
Since your upper body pushing exercises are already giving you plenty of work on your pecs and shoulders, and since your upper body pulling exercises are already giving you plenty of work on lats and mid-back musculature, the focus of this post is to share with you my approach to core training and several of my top exercises to use for helping clients and athletes to maximize the strength of their abdominals, obliques and low-back muscles, along with improving their rotational strength and power.
As the name implies, the Core 4 includes four categories of abdominal, obliques and lower-back and hip strengthening exercises:
- Anterior (front) core exercises
- Lateral core exercises
- Rotational core exercises
- Posterior (back) core exercises.
The way I see it, in order to have a fully comprehensive core training program, it must hit each of four aspects described above, as doing so covers each of the major movements aspects your torso performs, as well as coordinating all of the muscle that make those movements possible. So, I developed the Core 4 training formula as a check-list to help make sure all bases are covered in order to insure clients and athletes develop a core that’s stronger in all directions.
Confusion About Squats and Deadlifts
The importance of looking at the core in this manner is highlighted by the false belief that squats and deadlifts provide sufficient stimulus for the anterior and lateral core musculature. Although research has shown squats and deadlifts to be great “core exercises,” the question you should ask is: which aspect of the core?
In this case, the research demonstrates that exercises like conventional squats and deadlifts are effective applications for activating the posterior core muscles (i.e., the back extensors and lumbar stabilizers), but it hasn’t shown them to provide a better means of activating the anterior core muscles (i.e., abdominals and obliques) than exercises that focus on the anterior aspect of the core (2,3).
This reality should be obvious since the nature of exercises like squats and deadlifts, is one that is driving your torso forward into flexion, therefore you must be constantly working to use your back extensors in order to resist that force and maintain your spinal alignment.
Note: Check out my Core Confusion: The Truth About Squats & Deads article.
Lower-body Strength and Core Rotational Power
Although conventional squats and deadlifts may not provide a sufficient stimulus to train the anterior and lateral core aspects; lower-body strength, along with core strength, plays a vital role in producing and improving maximal rotational power. This is because the strength generated by the hips and legs provide ground reaction force, as well as a strong base of support to transfer force through the core then to the shoulders. A stronger lower body, along with a strong core results in a more powerful linkage, therefore increased rotational power.
In short, if you want to improve rotational power, you’ve got to improve your lower body strength and core strength, along with your upper-body strength.
How to Use the Core 4 Training Formula
The following is a list of my top three exercise choices that fit into each category of the Core 4 training formula. As I alluded to above, in order to help me make sure each aspect of the core is addressed, I include at least one exercise from each of the four categories within a given training week.
Anterior (Front) Core
Medicine Ball Arm Walkout
Stability Ball Plate Crunch
Stability Ball Pike Rollout
Posterior (Back) Core
Barbell Romanian Deadlift
Barbell Squat (Front or Back)
Barbell Good Morning
One-Arm Farmer’s Carry
Side Elbow Plank (with Dumbbell Shoulder External Rotation)
Angled Barbell Rainbows (aka. Landmine Rotations)
Tight Rotations with Cable or Band (aka. Pallof Press 2.0)
Dumbbell Plank Row (aka. Renegade Row)
Low to High Chops with Cable or Band
Nick’s Upcoming Live Events
Speaking at the NSCA Personal Trainers Conference in Anaheim, CA on October 10-12, 2015.
Teaching a private staff workshop at Impact Strength and Performance in Bellevue,WA on October 14th, 2015
Teaching a private staff workshop at Vigor Ground Fitness and Performance in Renton, WA on October 15th, 2015
Speaking at the VPS Elite Fitness and Performance Summit in Louisville, KY on October 16-17th, 2015.
Teaching a PreCon and Workshops at the NSCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey on December 4-5th, 2015.
- Dominguez, R, and Gadja, R. Total Body Training. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons; 7-12, 1982.
- Nuzzo JL, et al. Trunk muscle activity during stability ball and free weight exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):95-102.
- Martuscello JM, et al. Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jun;27(6):1684-98.