Category Archives: Core Exercises

Full Contact Core

develop a strong core
Ever meet one of those true strength freaks? One of those guys that can bench 300 for reps, deadlift 500, dunk a basketball, and carry heavy furniture around like it’s plastic lawn chairs?
While this kind of full body strength is impressive – not to mention useful when you need someone to help you move – it’s also a fine example of exceptional core strength.
Now I’ve done it. I said “core,” which immediately conjures up images of 30-second ab infomercial products and skinny men in spandex contorting on Bosu balls.
However, I prefer to use the word core as how the dictionary defines it: “the basic or most important part; the essence.” Extending this definition to training, it means your seemingly strong physique is nowhere near its true potential if your core strength isn’t up to par.
Now there’s no shortage of good core training articles available, and literally dozens of very effective exercises. But one of the problems with even sound core training advice is a lack of relevance to what you want to improve.
Considering you’re reading T Nation, there’s a good chance that you want to improve your squat, bench, and deadlift. So what will ground-based core exercises do for you?
Answer is, very little. You might improve your “isolated” core strength, but your performance in the Big 3 will likely be unaffected.
To get truly strong you need to choose what I call full contact core exercises. By “full contact” I don’t mean getting hoofed in the bread basket for sets of 8-10, but rather specific exercises that address and eliminate what I refer to as energy leaks.
Here’s an example: If your back rounds in the squat and deadlift, that’s an energy leak. And because you didn’t stabilize the trunk sufficiently, your power will fail to transfer from the ground to the bar. The consequence of this is injury, or a failed and ugly lift. So you need to find core exercises to address this.

How to Develop a Full Contact Core

The following four steps will help you develop a full contact core in no time. However, under no circumstances may you skip a step.
Imagine when you were a kid if you tried to skip the walking stage and went straight from crawling to sprinting. Exactly. Swallow your pride, do the steps in order, and derive the full benefits.
I’ll also provide two different exercise examples and progressions. You can use both or choose the one that best suits your routine.

Step # 1: Build Tension

develop a strong core
The first step is all about creating tension. Isometric contractions are an effective way to learn this skill – most are familiar with planks and other foundational shit – but I’ve found moving resistance over short distances with control is better.

Full Contact Twist – Arm Movement Only

Start by holding a plank position with tense glutes, abs, and thighs. Squeeze the bar and push forward with one arm while pulling the bar with the other to create upper body tension. This helps prevent energy leaks in the shoulders and elbows.
Slowly rotate the arms to one side, pause for a second, and then return to the start position before switching sides. The goal is to be able to hold a position with maximum tension while performing a slow arm movement, all without letting any other body segment move significantly.

Band Rotations – Arm Movement Only

I learned this from Nick Tumminello and it’s a great way to teach athletes what a full contact core is all about. Start in what’s known as a “pallof press” position with maximum tension in the glutes and abs, and then rotate the hands between the shoulders.

Step 2: Grinding

develop a strong core
The second step is all about grinding. An often-used analogy for grinding versus exploding is the comparison of a tow truck and a sports car. If your car gets stuck in a snow bank on a winter night you want a tow truck to come save your bacon, not a Ferrari.
To lift heavy weights, you have to be able to create considerable tension. While it’s tempting to attack a big-ass weight with maximum speed, it isn’t always effective as the faster you move, the less force is generated.
You can always try moving faster through a sticking point once you start slow, but what happens if you explode into a sticking point and then get stuck?
The key is to learn to grind and control the force with the following grinding moves.

Grinding Full Contact Twist

The full contact twist exercise also includes hip movement. While you worked with a tight trunk in the first exercise, here you’re moving your hips while still remaining tight. This teaches you to transfer force as a single unit and while moving, stopping, decelerating, and accelerating.
Start the rotation to one side while pivoting with the feet. Lower the bar close to the thigh and under control before moving it with tension back up. Make sure to start the movement with the hips. The movement is very similar to what happens while punching and throwing.

Grinding Band Hip Rotations

This exercise is very similar to the full contact twist. From the same starting position as the previous exercise, rotate toward the attachment point with the hips while remembering to stay tight and not leak energy from the trunk.
Next, rotate in the other direction with the same hip action as with the full contact twist.

Step 3: Slow to Fast

After you’ve learned how to generate maximum tension and grind, it’s time to explode!
This step closely resembles the often advocated “controlled eccentric and explosive concentric” lifting mantra. This is an effective lifting cadence for both hypertrophy and maximum strength development but you still need to know how to stay tight! And this is how to do it.

Full Contact Twist – Slow to Fast

This exercise is performed like the previous version in step #2, but now you slowly lower the bar and pause for a full second before exploding up. Make sure you create max tension before exploding. If you can’t, start lighter.

Controlled Band Rotations – Slow to Fast

This is also performed like its previous version in step #2, but again you add the pause for a second before exploding up.

Step # 4: Fast and Furious

Reactive training methods are very important training tools, especially for athletes that have to be able to react when heavy objects (such as a 230-pound fullback) are rushing their way.
To effectively decelerate an object with high velocity you have to get extremely tight, fast – you essentially have to create an immediate  of maximum tension as there’s no time to slowly build it up. In this fourth and final step you’ll work to develop this vital quality.
As stated before, you can’t skip steps. Jump in here at number 4 and you’ll only get injured. You’ve been warned.

Explosive Twists

While the basic movement is similar to what you’ve already done, here you have to “jump” from position to position. This creates less control as each repetition will vary somewhat from the previous one. Because of this you must be able to demonstrate a full contact core despite slight deviations from a pre-planned path.

Explosive Band Rotations

Again, the execution is similar, only with a faster eccentric phase. Even though it’s easier and less dangerous than the explosive twist exercise above, you’ll certainly have to work hard to prevent energy leaks.

Now what?

Now it’s up to you. Are you willing to let sub-optimal core training sabotage your strength and hypertrophy gains? Or are you going to embrace the power of intelligent core training?
It should be an easy decision. By learning to develop total control over a given resistance, you harness the power of energy transfer, thereby maximizing your strength potential.
All by developing a full contact core!

Build A Better Body: 4 Weeks To A Stronger Core

By Martin Rooney

Photo Credit Martin Rooney
Photo Credit Martin Rooney

Exercises You’ve Never Tried: Beach Body Edition

I have a confession to make: I love lifting weights, but I don’t enjoy training the beach muscles.
It’s not that I hate bodybuilding or training arms – I love all training – but if given the choice, I’d pick legs ten times out of ten.
My hierarchy would probably look something like this:

  1. Legs
  2. More Legs
  3. Back
  4. Wander aimlessly around the gym
  5. Chest/Shoulders
  6. More Back
  7. Read a magazine
  8. Core
  9. Clip my toenails
  10. Arms

Most typical upper body exercises bore me to tears. I just can’t get hyped up for bench presses, pushdowns, and curls like I can for squats, lunges, and pull-ups.
Call me crazy.
One thing that helps make upper body days more fun, and consequently keeps me pushing hard, is experimenting with different exercise variations. Here are some upper body exercises that even I like.

1. Rotational One-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

When I first saw the one-arm dumbbell bench press, I didn’t give it the respect it deserves. It didn’t look particularly hard, so I unassumingly grabbed the same weight I’d use for a regular dumbbell bench press.
Bad move. Anyone that’s tried the exercise before knows where this is going.
On the first rep, I literally tipped to the side and fell off the bench, dropping the dumbbell like a total jackass and causing a scene. I knew immediately I was going to like this one.
While it’s essentially an upper-body pushing exercise to work the chest, shoulders, and triceps, you’ll learn fast that it’s really a full body exercise. To be successful, you must create massive tension throughout your legs, core, and even the opposite arm.
You’ll want to start out light to avoid my embarrassing fate, but interestingly, after a few tries to get the hang of it, you’ll find you’re able to use more weight unilaterally than you could bilaterally.
I like to start with a neutral grip at the bottom and pronate my wrist as I press. This feels great on the shoulders, and the rotation allows for a better contraction in my chest.

2. Ring Flies

Exercises You've Never Tried: Beach Body Edition

These are brutal, but if you can pull them off, they’ll fry your chest like no other. I first tried them after seeing a picture of Larry Scott doing them on some badass old-school chain rings.
This is an extremely advanced exercise, so don’t just jump right into trying it if you don’t have any experience on the rings. Doing so will inevitably lead to either a shoulder injury or a face plant, neither of which you want.
Make sure you can first knock out at least 25 ring push-ups to get acquainted with the inherent instability. From there, progress to flies with your arms bent at approximately a 90-degree angle. You may even want to do these on your knees at first.
Once you’re comfortable with those, it’s time to progress to full flies. Be sure to maintain a slight bend in your elbows to protect your shoulders and keep the tension on your chest.

If you get comfortable with full flies (and by comfortable I mean proficient – I can assure your pecs won’t be comfortable), give ring “fly-aways” a shot. I got the idea for these from a recent Livespill from TC where he talked about a similar concept using dumbbells.
You’re basically going to do a drop set going in the reverse order of the progression I laid out to work up to full flies: five full flies, five bent-arm flies, and five pushups, all in succession with no rest. Superset that with five minutes of lying on the floor, hating life.

3. Ring Push-up/Fly Combo

Like the name suggests, one arm does a push-up while the other arm does a fly. You’ll want to place more weight on the arm doing the push-up and de-load the arm doing the fly as much as possible. It may help to think of it as a modified one-arm pushup where you reach the other arm straight out to the side. Alternate between arms each rep.
Confused? I don’t blame you. Check out the video below.

The unilateral nature of the exercise may lead you to believe it’s significantly more difficult than bilateral ring flies, but from a pressing standpoint, it’s actually slightly easier since the arm doing the push-up is supporting the majority of the load where the lever arm is shorter. The “fly” arm simply provides some assistance to counter the rotational demands of the one-arm push up, and gets a decent stretch and bit of activation in the process.
From a core standpoint, however, it’s much harder. The unilateral nature of the exercise introduces a big anti-rotational stability component since you have to brace extremely hard to avoid twisting toward the arm doing the fly.

4. Supinated Ring Chins

Exercises You've Never Tried: Beach Body Edition

Some bodybuilding coaches spout that chin-ups are the best biceps exercise going and no direct biceps work is required. Others say to build mammoth bone-crushing pythons, you need to devote an entire day (or two or three) per week to arms and do every type of curl imaginable.
I’m somewhere in the middle.
I love chin-ups as much as anybody, while curls are the absolute bane of my training existence.
I dropped curls all-together about two years ago, and have just been doing a heavy diet of chin-ups and rows. In that time, my arms have stayed about the same size while the rest of my body has grown, leading me to believe that chin-ups obviously work the biceps to a large degree and are sufficient if your goals are more performance-based, but probably aren’t enough if you hope to start selling tickets to the gun show.
Here’s the thing: it depends largely on how you do the chin-ups.
For instance, I usually use a shoulder-width grip (often wider) and think of my arms as being hooks while my back does all the work. I also come to full extension at the bottom of every rep and do them explosively while maintaining control of my body (i.e. no swinging).
Interestingly, the better I’ve become at chin-ups, the less I feel them in my biceps. Fact is, when I do feel my biceps working a lot, I take it as a sign I’m not retracting my scapulae as I should be.
However, you can easily tweak them to hone in on the biceps. The best way I’ve found is with close-grip supinated ring chin-ups.
Place the rings as close together as possible and take a supinated grip. Perform the reps slower than normal on both the concentric and eccentric and stop just short of full extension at the bottom to keep constant tension on the biceps. It’s important to be strict with these.

If you don’t have rings, you can do them with just a bar, although the rings definitely add something to it from a biceps standpoint. You’ll find that towards the bottom of the rep, the rings will start to twist and your biceps will be forced to kick into overdrive to keep that supinated wrist position.
These are a lot tougher than they look, so if it’s too much at first, you can also try a similar concept using inverted rows instead.

Doing reps like this will invariably shortchange your back to some degree, so do them after your regular chin-up or inverted row workout to finish off your arms.

5. Super Slow Chin-ups

The explanation for these is simple, but they’re far from easy. Do a close-grip chin-up as slowly as you can. That’s it.
Shoot for 20-30 seconds on the concentric and 30-40 seconds on the eccentric to start. If you can do that, add some weight. If that’s too much, then just go as slowly as you can.
I also like to do a static hold at the top.

Use a supinated grip for more biceps emphasis or a neutral grip to target the brachialis. Either way, it’ll also blast your forearms and help build tremendous grip strength.
Save this for the tail end of your workout and just do one painstaking rep. Trust me, if you’re doing it right, that’s all you’ll be able to muster.

6. Bodyweight Triceps Extensions

This is an awesome triceps exercise that, when done correctly, also smokes the core.
TC wrote about doing these in a Smith machine in a Livespill and while I like that exercise too, I prefer doing them using suspension straps for two reasons.
First, you can get a bigger range of motion. When you use a fixed bar, you’re forced to do the exercise like a traditional skullcrusher where you bring your forehead to the bar. With straps, you can extend your arms forward slightly as you drop down so that at the bottom, your hands are actually behind your head. This enhances the stretch on the long head of the triceps and takes stress off the elbows.
Second, the straps allow you to rotate your hands freely as you move through the rep, making it more shoulder-friendly and increasing the contraction in your triceps.

To get the full benefit for your core, it’s imperative that you keep a straight line from your feet to your head. There will be a tendency to want to pike at the hips, so you’ll need to squeeze your glutes and brace your abs to prevent that from happening. It should feel similar to the sensation you get from an ab wheel rollout. If it doesn’t, you’re probably not doing it right.
This is a lot tougher than it looks, so start with the straps fairly high at first (approximately chest level) and work your way down.

7. Reverse Grip Dumbbell Floor Press

Perform this exercise just as you would a regular dumbbell floor press, only supinate your hands as you press. At the bottom your palms will face each other, while at the top they’ll point back behind you.

Where you feel this exercise will depend on your set up. If you use a wider grip, you’ll feel it more in your chest, whereas a closer-grip will put more emphasis on the triceps. I prefer a close grip because I find a wide grip puts undue stress on my shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
You can also try holding a supinated position throughout the rep, but I prefer to rotate to allow for a neutral, shoulder-friendly position closer to the chest.
Think about pressing the dumbbell down towards your feet rather than up over your face like you might in a typical barbell bench press. You obviously won’t be able to, but having that cue in your mind makes the exercise go more smoothly.
Start with about 50% of the weight you can use for a regular dumbbell press and go from there.

8. The “Anti” Press

In response to Dr. Stuart McGill’s research regarding spinal health, much of the new-age core training focuses on “anti” movement stability training: anti-rotation, anti-extension, and anti-lateral flexion. I called this exercise the “anti press” because it addresses all those categories simultaneously.
Grab the handle of a suspension strap and face sideways. Lean out so that your body is at about a 60% angle to the floor. Now brace your core to keep from twisting and press straight out until your arms are fully extended. This part of the motion is similar to a Pallof press you might do with bands or cables and works anti-rotation.
From there, bring your arms straight overhead and pause for a brief second. At this point, you’re focusing on anti-extension and anti-lateral flexion. Rinse and repeat for the desired reps.

Along with building tremendous core stability, this also assists with shoulder strength and mobility. I’m always looking for ways to kill as many birds as I can with one stone and this exercise fits the bill nicely.
It’s easy to progress or regress simply by adjusting your foot position and/or the length of the strap. The further out your feet are from the anchor point and the shorter the strap is, the easier it will be. Move your feet more underneath the anchor point and increase the length of the strap as you get better.
This is a very advanced exercise, so you may want to start with just the overhead portion and see how that goes first.


If you’re one of those people that when asked how you’re doing always responds with “same shit, different day,” some of these exercises may be just what you need to spice up your gym life and get growing again. Don’t go throwing all the basics out the window, but use these as supplements to reignite your training vigor or to help break through a rut or plateau.
Have fun, and be sure to save me a seat at the gun show.
Actually, don’t bother. I’m pretty sure I’ll be training legs that day.


Discover the best ways to melt your middle and chisel a rock-hard core

By Adam Campbell, Posted Date: September 8, 2011
The fitness industry is a crazy business, especially when it comes to abs. For example, if you want to reveal your six-pack, you generally have two product choices.
1. The too-easy-to-work method.
You know this better as “5-minute abs!” or some such hype. But if this approach were really effective, even Chris Christie would have a washboard.
2. The so-hard-it-has-to-work method.
Think 60 to 90 minutes of exercise, 6 days a week. Now if you have the time and energy for this kind of regimen, we commend you. But plenty of people are missing one or the other. And that’s just reality, not a cop-out.
So we wondered: Could there be an ab-sculpting program that actually works and is doable for most people? For the answer, we turned to Mike Wunsch, C.S.C.S., and Craig Rasmussen, C.S.C.S., creators of Men’s Health’s newest fat-loss plan, 24-Hour Abs! The answer: “Absolutely,” says Wunsch, who teams up with Rasmussen to design the workout programs at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. “That’s exactly how we make our living.”
One important fact about Results Fitness: Even in a recession, this Southern California gym has expanded. Twice. Why? Because its trainers have developed a fat-loss formula tailored specifically for busy people. (Read: mostly everyone.) The requirements are simple: 30 to 40 minutes a day, 3 days a week. So how do these trainers do it when so many others have failed? They threw out the old guidelines. The new ones they’ve created are based on 21st-century science and the methods that work best with their clients. Now you can benefit, too.
Don’t target your abs to lose fat
Back in 2002, we reported that it would take 250,000 crunches to burn a pound of fat, according to estimates from University of Virginia scientists. We’re pretty sure those researchers published that statistic to make a point. But after almost a decade, the point still may not have hit home. “I’m amazed at the number of people who think that simply doing ab exercises will make their belly disappear,” says Rasmussen. “That is probably the least efficient way to reveal a six-pack.”
Do work every single muscle
“Muscle is your body’s primary fat burner,” says Rasmussen. Your muscles require energy to contract, which is why you burn calories when you exercise. But resistance training, unlike running or cycling, also causes a significant amount of damage to your muscle fibers. And that’s a good thing. “Your body has to expend energy to repair and upgrade those fibers after your workout,” says Rasmussen. “And a single total-body weight-training session can boost your metabolism for up to 2 days.”
So you shouldn’t neglect a single inch of your body. That goes double for the legs, a body part that plenty of men either train just once a week or simply ignore. Case in point: Syracuse University researchers determined that people burned more calories the day after a lower-body resistance session than the day after they worked their upper bodies. Why? Because your lower half houses more muscle. The upshot: “A busy guy’s smartest approach is to train his entire body every other day,” says Rasmussen. “That allows you to elevate your metabolism maximally all week long, even though you’re working out only 3 or 4 days a week.”
Don’t start your workout with crunches
“You can do lots of crunches and situps and still have a weak core,” says Wunsch. “We see that all the time.” The reason: Classic ab moves like crunches and situps work the muscles that allow you to flex (that is, round) your lower spine. True core exercises, on the other hand, train the muscles that prevent your spine from rounding. They also allow you to transfer force from your lower body to your upper body (in a golf swing, for example), and vice versa. Core exercises target the same muscles that crunches do, but they also include your hip and lower-back muscles. So what’s a true core exercise? One that trains you to keep your spine stable and in its natural alignment. Besides the plank (more on that in a minute), scores of exercises qualify, including the side plank, mountain climber, and even the pushup.
Do start with core exercises
“We test everything in our gym,” says Wunsch. “And we’ve seen that people achieve far better results when they do core exercises at the beginning of their workout instead of at the end.” The reason: By training your core when your muscles are fresh, you achieve the fastest gains in strength, says Wunsch.
That’s important for the average guy, Wunsch and his colleagues have found, because the core is the limiting factor in almost every exercise. “A weak core is what keeps most men from lifting more weight in the squat and deadlift and just about everything else,” says Wunsch. “If we focus on strengthening their core first, they’ll ultimately be able to lift heavier weights, which allows them to work more muscle and burn more calories. We’re thinking about long-term success.” To find out how your middle measures up, see Is Your Core Weak?
Don’t spend hours on your core
While 5 minutes of exercise a day isn’t enough to reveal your abs, it is about the right amount of time to dedicate to targeted core training. “We’ve found that just 2 to 4 sets of one or two core exercises is quite effective,” Rasmussen says. “Our goal is to make you stronger, not more tired.” A 5-minute core routine prior to weight training has a side benefit, too. “It revs up your core muscles so they fire better as you do other exercises,” Rasmussen says.
Do master the plank
Flip through any issue of Men’s Health and you’ll probably find some version of the plank. This exercise may appear boring and easy—after all, you look like you’re simply holding a pushup position but with your weight supported on your forearms instead of your hands. “The plank is easy only if you’re doing it incorrectly or don’t know how to make it more challenging,” says Wunsch. What’s more, he adds, the plank is key because it teaches you to make your core stiff. “That’s a skill you need for almost every exercise.”
So how do you perfect this exercise? Start by assuming a plank position, and then have a friend place a broomstick along your back (as shown on the previous page). It should touch your head, upper back, and butt; this indicates that your spine is in proper alignment. If the stick doesn’t make contact at all three points, simply adjust your posture until it does. That’s the position you need to hold.
Don’t waste a second on the treadmill
“If you have only 30 to 40 minutes to devote to a workout, then every second has to count,” says Rasmussen. “In those cases, our clients do zero running.” His contention is that you can achieve faster fat loss with resistance training. How so? First, drop the assumption that running burns more calories than lifting does. A University of Southern Maine study found that a single set of a weight-training exercise torches as many calories as running at a 6-minute-mile pace for the same amount of time. So for every second you spend lifting weights, your body is expending high amounts of energy.
There’s also the metabolism boost of weight training. “Resistance training has a much larger metabolic impact than long-distance running does,” says Rasmussen. “Plus, your body is being given a stimulus to gain strength and build new lean tissue.” One last efficiency benefit: Lifting weights through a full range of motion can improve your flexibility as well or even better than static stretching does, according to a University of North Dakota study.
Do keep your body moving
“Our goal is to pack as much physical work as possible into whatever time our clients have,” says Wunsch. To that end, he and Rasmussen frequently implement supersets and circuits—strategies that save time without sacrificing results. To understand why, you’ll need a few quick definitions.
Straight sets: This is a traditional weight-training routine, in which you complete all the sets of a given exercise before moving on to the next.
Alternating sets: These involve alternating between exercises that train your body using two noncompeting movements. For example, you pair an upper-body exercise that works the muscles on your front side—a pushup or bench press, say—with a lower-body exercise that emphasizes the muscles on your back side–the deadlift, for example. The idea is that you work a group of muscles with one exercise, but instead of sitting around for a full 2 or 3 minutes while that muscle group recovers, you perform an exercise that doesn’t heavily engage those same muscles. As a result, you can cut your rest time in half or eliminate it completely.
Circuits: These are similar to alternating sets, except that they involve three or more exercises. You can rest after each exercise in the circuit, or only after the last exercise.
How much time can these techniques save? A 2011 Spanish study found that men who trained with circuits achieved the same gains as those who trained with straight sets—yet their workouts were 42 percent shorter. But that’s not to suggest you should hit the showers early. No, it means circuits and alternating sets can help you squeeze more total sets into the same sweat session. To try it yourself, use the chart below as a guide; combine your exercises diagonally into alternating sets or circuits. Shown here are general movements, but you can use any variation of these exercises.


>Strengthen Your Core and Loosen Your Hamstrings


by CHAD WATERBURY on MAY 9, 2011
Core training is what fitness is all about these days. Ten years ago, “core training” was basically crunch variations along with an assortment of leg raises. Then Dr. Stuart McGill came along and changed the game. Thanks to his terrific research, Dr. McGill taught us that the ability to brace the core, and maintain that position for time, improves back health and performance. When I say “brace,” I’m referring to that core tension you instinctively create when someone is about to punch you in the stomach. You don’t need to bend your spine around like a twig to get the most bang for your core training buck.
McGill’s research also shows how detrimental spinal flexion can be. Each time you do a normal crunch, your spine flexes. It’s the repeated flexion of the spine that can lead to all sorts of nasty problems such as disc herniation. And when you bend over to pick up a weight while your spine is rounded the story gets even worse. In order to protect your discs and nerves from undue stress it’s essential to learn how to properly brace your core.
Now, teaching someone to brace their core isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, we can all tense our abs, but most of us can’t maintain that tension while moving our body, especially when an external load is added to the mix. A simple way to train someone to maintain core tension is with the plank. Most people should be able to hold the regular plank for 90 seconds. This core endurance is essential to keeping your back healthy and strong.
However, we’ve been inundated with pics, articles, and videos about the plank, so doing that exercise probably doesn’t sound new or exciting to you. That’s why I want to show you two of my favorite core exercises once people are ready to move past the regular plank.
The first exercise is called “Stir the pot,” and I learned it from Dr. McGill. It’s an outstanding exercise to build core stability strength. Here’s how you do it.
First, rest your elbows on a large swiss ball with your body in the plank position – body straight from neck to ankles and core braced tight. Second, make circles with your forearms/elbows so the ball rolls aroundwithout moving your body. This exercise is tougher than it looks when you do it right. You’ll feel muscles working all the way down to your spine. As you get accustomed to the exercise focus on making larger circles. The goal of this exercise, or any core exercise, is to make it as difficult as possible.
The second exercise, the “leg curl with single leg balance,” I learned from Dr. Craig Liebenson, owner of LA Sports and Spine and a terrific doctor who specializes in everything related to the spine.
To perform this exercise, lie on your back with your legs straight and heels resting on a Swiss ball. Then, lift your hips as high as possible and perform one leg curl. Next, brace your core/hips super tight and lift the right leg in the air and hold it for 4-5 seconds. Do the same with the left leg. From start to finish it’s one rep. Perform 5 reps.
Not only does this exercise improve core stability strength and performance, but it also induces a surprising side-effect that I hadn’t measured before: it loosens your hamstrings.
Try it with yourself or a client who has tight hamstrings. First, perform a standing toe touch and make a note of how far your fingertips reach. Then, perform five reps of the leg curl w/single leg balance and test it again. It’s common to increase your range of motion 3-4 inches. Pretty impressive considering you didn’t do any stretching.
How does the leg curl exercise increase hamstring mobility? Before I answer that, let me explain why your muscles get stiff in the first place.
You see, when a muscle is stiff most trainers will stretch it. Immediately, the muscle will increase its range of motion. But here’s the important part that I’m sure you’ve experienced: the added range of motion from static stretching doesn’t hold. A few hours later, or the next day, the muscle is stiff again.
More advanced trainers will do deep tissue work such as the Active Release Technique (ART) to restore range of motion. This hands-on style of improving mobility and tissue health can be effective and I’ve used similar techniques for years. But again, the added range of motion doesn’t hold for long.
The problem with typical stretching or soft tissue techniques is that they don’t address the root of the problem. I’d say that 99% of the time the problem is actually in the spine. In order for a muscle to be flexible, the nervous system must get the memo that it’s safe to increase the range of motion. In other words, if you have super stiff hamstrings it’s likely the deep muscles that support and surround your spine aren’t firing correctly, or they’re just plain weak. So the nervous system puts the brakes on your hamstrings mobility.
The leg curl with single leg balance activates deep core and hip muscles that provide a strong foundation of support for your muscles to work against. This immediate neural enhancement (potentiation) allows the nervous system to release the brake that’s currently holding your hamstrings tighter than guitar strings.
And when you perform the “stir the pot” exercise right before the leg curl exercise it works even better. So, test your hamstring mobility by attempting to touch your toes, then perform one set of each exercise I posted above. Retest your hamstring mobility and prepare to be impressed. Continue doing these two exercises for one week and the increased range of motion will hold.
Get ready for a more effective approach to mobility training. It all starts at the spine.
Stay focused,

21st Century Core Training

The Best Core Exercises

Everyone wants a lean, sexy core. Whether you’re male or female, a defined midsection is what separates an average body from an incredible body. There’s no honor in sporting big guns and cannonball delts if you’ve got a spare tire. And what woman wants to be relegated to covering her midsection with a towel wrap at the beach?
The first, and most important, step for getting a washboard stomach is with the right diet. Replace all carbs with vegetables, take two teaspoons of Carlson fish oil at breakfast/lunch/dinner, and eat one gram of protein per pound of lean body mass (LBM = total weight – fat weight).
Once your diet is in order, then it’s time to focus on your training. You can find hundreds of crazy ab exercises (most of them do more harm than good) on YouTube, but it’s imperative that you master the plank and side plank first. Especially important is side plank endurance. Your core must have sufficient endurance strength before you progress to more esoteric ab exercises. If you skip this step you’re setting yourself up for a back injury.
Dr Stuart McGill, the world’s foremost expert on a healthy core, recommends that you be able to hold the side plank for 75 seconds on each side. In addition, you should be able to hold the plank for 90 seconds. Like all forms of training I put my clients through, the progression occurs in stages. Each stage lasts as long as it takes. Do the following two exercises, one set each day, until you reach the goal. Then move on to Stage II.
Side plank (work up to a 75-second hold)
Plank (work up to a 90-second hold)
Now that you’ve established your base of strength endurance for your core, it’s time for the next variations. For each of the following variations it’s imperative that you brace your core and do not let your hips shift or rotate one bit. This is harder than it looks when you lock your hips in place. Do the following two exercises, once each day, until you reach the goal.
Single-leg plank (work up to a 45-second hold with each leg up)
Single-arm plank (work up to a 45-second hold with each arm up)
For the Stage III exercises that build the ultimate core, check out my Body of F.I.R.E. system that’s coming soon. 


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