True Strength Comes from Within Part 2: Real Core Training
Core training has been so diluted and bastardized that I honestly hate using the word “core.” It sounds like I’m about to run you through a 6-minute routine that requires leg warmers, headbands, and some horrible 80’s music in the background. I’d rather a play a game of grab ass with an alligator. The muscles of the core are just like every other muscle in the body. It has to have heavy resistance to increase strength. Just feeling the burn will get you nowhere. The exercises below will not be found in your local cardio class or any “quick six-pack” YouTube Video. Why? Because they hurt. They will push you far beyond any sit-up routine ever invented and they will require just as much mental strength as physical.
The RKC Plank, or Maximum Effort Plank, is a great starting exercise for anyone with a weak core. It forces the body to maintain alignment against gravity and its own weight. A good plank should be on the hands with the arms locked out, same position as the top of a push up, with the hands directly under the shoulders. The shoulders, hips, and heels are in a straight line. This exercise is designed to add a little extra pressure. I start on my elbows and try to flex every muscle in my body. I try to pull my elbow and feet together while squeezing my back and glutes as tight as possible. If done correctly, it should only be held for fifteen to thirty seconds max. If you feel that you can hold it longer, then you are not squeezing hard enough.
The Bent Over KB Row is performed by hinging at the hips, like the bottom of a KB swing position, and row the KB into the body. The elbows should be tucked tight to the body and slide right by the ribs. The back should stay flat. This is done by presenting a proud chest during the duration of the exercise.
Offset Racked Carries are a great starting point to learn how to stabilize the core and begin to create internal pressure. For this we hike or clean a single KB into the racked position and walk, not allowing our body to bend or lean to either side. All unilateral, or single side movement should be performed by both sides before rest. Offset Racked Squats apply the same principles as the carry, but add in a deep squat to change the plane of motion and force the core to fight the instinct to lean forward at the bottom of the movement.
The Zercher Squat is an advanced modification of the front squat. The barbell is held in the crook of the elbows and the back is forced into an upright posture during the entire movement. I squat down to a comfortable distance, or until the elbows touch the knees, and return to the standing position.
The Zercher Deadlift is a very advanced movement. It is also feared by most of the fitness industry, but those guys are just lazy. This is the second progression of the Zercher Squat in which I take the barbell all the way to the ground before returning to the standing position. Only perform this once you have mastered the Zercher Squat.
Another version of this is the Romanian Deadlift with the Zercher hold. The top position is the same, but this is a hip hinge instead of a squat. In the picture below is one of my Idols, Pavel Tsatsouline, performing this variation in the lab with Professor Stuart McGill. They are testing the muscle activation of the lower back during some of Pavel's favorite exercises. Pavel is performing this movement with 315 pounds at a body weight of about 165 pounds. I'm sure I just made a few "Fitness Experts" shit themselves, but it's only dangerous if you lose control or if you do not have a good base.