Core Training for the Combat Athlete

Core training, a phrase that the fitness marketing gurus have usurped, twisted and made a mockery of.
Shame really as training the midsection is vital for anyone involved in any sport, especially Martial Arts and the combat sports.

The core is not just the 6 pack muscle (rectus abdominis), and core training is not just about doing crunches. Ok, some of you know this and train your core with Planks, Supermans and Bird Dog exercises. I congratulate you on your education, but it still isn’t enough, especially if you intend on hitting and getting hit with any force.

This workout which i filmed earlier shows some genuine core training. It’s an example of the Power Circuit format that I use on myself and some of my fighters, but with exercises inspired by the Diesel Crew’s excellent Combat Core manual and other top conditioning coaches.

The circuit is as follows;

Deadlift x 5/4/3/2/1
1 Arm Push up x 5 L/R
Sledgehammer slams x 10 L/R
Racked Kettlebell Bag Work (See combat core for these) x 10 L/R

So what is happening in the core?
Deadlifts: Posterior chain exercise requiring the core to resist forward flexion. The heavy load of the deadlift (the video shows my last round lifting 140kg or 308.6lb) forces the entire core into action  form a rock solid platform for the power generated in the legs and hips to get to the shoulders where the bar attaches to the body. A weak core will lead to either a missed lift or a back injury.

1 Arm Push Ups: This is a plank on steroids! You have three points of balance, your feet and one hand, this means one thing – Torque.
As you raise and lower the body there is a tremendous rotational force being placed on the core, don’t beleive me, watch the video, you think you can do that with weak abs?

Stoppit! This is a party trick, not a training drill

Sledgehammer: This is a forward flexion drill, like a crunch in some respects. This trains the abs, along with the legs, shoulders and lats to generate force where the previous two drills were about resisting force.

Racked KB punching: A punch is similar to a one arm push up, the core under torque. As a punch is thrown the legs and hips generate power, the core must tighten to allow the force be passed up into the striking arm. On contact the core must be fully braced for the impact of the strike landing. Holding a weight amplifies these attributes.

So a four exercise circuit that will build strength, power and work capacity yet is centred around developing usable (as opposed to functional, which has also become a meaningless marketing term) core strength and stability.

Now obviously this isn’t for everyone, the circuit is designed for fighters, but with a little common sense you should be able to take the ideas and principles behind the workout to create your own workouts.
Perhaps substitute the deadlift for kettlebell swings. One arm push ups maybe a bit much, but you get similar benefit from regular push ups or one arm plank holds.
The sledgehammer can’t easily be substituted but V-Sits and ankle grab sit ups are a decent alternative.

Take the idea and run with it. You’ll get far more out of these drills then you will with crunches.

Have a look at the video:



Combat Core coming to DVD

I have talked about Jim Smith’s recent masterpiece, Combat Core, Advanced Torso Training for Explosive Strength and Power

It’s now about to be released on DVD. I haven’t seen it yet but here is the trailer for it:

I have however read the book cover to cover and back again, I’ve added some of to my own training and made some of my studnts/clients do some of the drills. They are fun, effective and uncomfortable, but by god do they work. I’m hitting harder than ever and I’m almost completely pain free from my lumbar disk injuries.

The book comes recommended, I expect no less from the DVD, I’ll be getting it, expect a review on here when I do.

Wild Geese
any cause but our own

Zercher Lifts

I posted an article on Zercher style lifts written by Jim Smith, author of Combat Core on sometime ago. Up until Jim sent me that article I had been using the Zercher style in my own training but didn’t really advocate it to others.

What is it? Basically is used to describe any lift where you are holding the weight in the crook of your elbow. You can securely hold a substantial weight, either a bar or sandbag/punch bag safely. Because you’re front loaded the core is working extra hard to support you without the same back strain you get with traditional squats and deadlifts (great news for my particular injuries, maybe I’m getting old?!)

Why do I like it? Because I usually train in either with minimalist and/or improvised equipment or in a commercial gym that is equipped with the evil Smith Machine, I needed some way to squat and lunge with a bar from the floor. The squat was easy, clean and front squat. The rest wasn’t so easy.

Then I got thinking, I muck around with the junior students by picking them up and holding them in the crook of the elbow while I run around. I’d never (yet) dropped one on their head, why can’t I do the same with a barbell?
From there on in my split squats went through the roof.

A couple of years on I discover that I didn’t invent it, some bloke named Zercher did. I still think the edges lift sounds better.

Wild Geese
any cause but our own

Old School Core Training

Old school seems to be back in vogue, crunches are on the way out and real core strength is on the way back in, hence the popularity of Kettlebells and Jim Smith’s excellent work

Here’s an exercise that’s been around for generations in the martial arts world. Fighters need a strong core, both for generating and for absorbing power. To this end kata’s/form’s such as Seisan and Sanchin were devised, I demo seisan here:

Fans of Dragon Door will recognise the first section of the form is based around “Power Breathing”, the second section is more about releasing the pent up tension. Oh and you get to practice your fighting techniques while you’re at it, how’s that for functional training?

Wild Geese
any cause but our own

Core strength for real men (and women)

Watch this video clip from Jim Smith and the Diesel Crew and see if you think crunches are still the best way to train your abs / core.

Nuff said

Wild Geese
any cause but our own

The Next Level of Core Support

Since I got a copy of Jim Smiths recent book “Combat Core”
i’ve been posting articles and informatin that he’s been kind enough to send through to me.

Jim is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and an expert trainer who writes for Men’s Fitness and the Elite Q/A Staff etc, he has been involved in strength training as a performance enhancement specialist for over 8 years and has worked with athletes from various sports who compete at various levels and is on of the founding members of a group of lunatics collectivley known as the Diesel Crew.
He has published many articles about his unique training style and innovative methods for many prominent strength and fitness related sites and also the authored of three renowned strength manuals.

I’ve just posted his latest article, The Next Level of Core Support – Dynamic Planks, on my site. In it Jim takes one of those useless mini trampoline things and turns it into an instrument of torture.

Have a look if you dare……

Wild Geese
any cause but our own

Crunches Are Not Core Training – Brett Jones CSCS

Crunches are not Core training…

I’ll keep harping on this until I expire – Crunches are not core training!

This today from Eric Cressey’s blog: Discussing the Bender Ball Ab Infomercial…
Eric provided this reference in regards to why crunches are a bad idea – not too mention “beyond the range” crunches…
Drake et al. The influence of static axial torque in combined loading on intervertebral joint failure mechanics using a porcine model. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2005 Dec;20(10):1038-45.
In particular, you might want to pay attention to the following:
“Repetitive flexion-extension motions with low magnitude compressive forces have been shown to be an effective mechanism for causing disc herniations.”

Yes – crunches are an abdominal exercise but they have nothing to do with core stability or core training. And they may even be harmful – especially if you have a history of back injury and disc issues.

Here is a little article I put together for a gym that I work at:
Just Say NO to Crunches…

Brett Jones CSCS

Ask most people what they do for their “core” or abs and crunches will be the typical response. Well, with crunches being the exercise of choice why is back pain at all time high levels?

Because crunches are not a “core” exercise and they train the exact motions that can cause back pain. Confused yet?

I can hear the inner conversations – “But I thought…????”

Much emphasized and touted for their “core” and abdominal benefits crunches are not the – or should not be – the exercise of choice.

Why? According to research from Dr. Stuart McGill ( and his book Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance – crunches produce very high levels of intra-disc pressure and do not train the abdominals to produce spinal stability. Your abdominals are meant to be stabilizers not movers and the rectus abdominus (the 6 pack muscle) is not really a flexor anyway. It is actually there to provide increased “hoop tension” – read resistance to twisting motions.

What’s a guy or gal to do? Learn to produce stability and prevent rotation and use the abs as stabilizers instead of movers.

Planks to the rescue! Get down on your elbows and toes and make a straight line out of your body. Pull your elbows to your toes and create a “superstiff” contraction of your abs, glutes and entire body. Breathe with and through the tension and stay tight. Work hard – do not just hang out – and build up to a 1 minute plus hold.
You can also get into plank position and keeping the body in perfect position lift one foot just a couple inches (keep the glutes tight and do not change body position at all) and hold. Rest and repeat on the other side.
Side planks are also possible.

Ditch the crunches and start planking to improve your “core” stability and see an exercise specialist for questions and/or help with implementing your new “abdominal” routine.

And this is only the beginning – Core activation techniques can be used to target “core” involvement depending on the foot placement/movement pattern (symmetrical, asymmetrical or single legged) and you can get into Full Contact Twists, Chops, Lifts and Overhead lifts….
Just say no…

Posted by Brett Jones on his blog, see the original here:

Wild Geese
any cause but our own