4 Core Stability Drills, and a Few Variations.

Last week we answered the question “Why is core strength so important?”
Which seemed to go down well,
judging by the amount of shares that post had. Thank you all very much, I’m happy to help.

Speaking of which…this blog has made it to the Breaking Muscle final 20 in their top ten fitness blog competition.
We got there because you all voted for me.
Thankyou again, you are all awesome.

So anyway, back on point.

Core Strength and how to develop it…

What does the core do?

It is becoming ever more widely accepted that the core musculature is primarily for the prevention of movement.
In other words it stabilises the spine.

This little tidbit of information ought to give us a clue as to how best to train it for strength.

We need to train the core in such a manner that there is little to no movement in the spine.
But in what direction?

The spine can flex and extend in the Saggital plane
It can flex left and right in the Frontal Plane
It can twist and rotate
It can move in a combination of planes and directions simultaneously.

planes of the body

So, we need to learn to effectively counter these movements.
In other words build the ability to resist flexion/extension in the Saggital Plane, resist lateral flexion and prevent twisting.

Here’s a list of the go to exercises to build this kind of stability:

  • Superman / Bird Dog
    This is a great place to start and suitable for pretty much everybody.
    Start on all fours in a kneeling position, now really slowly slide one arm and the opposite leg out until they are fully extended. Think of reaching for the walls.
    Hold full extension for a minimum of three seconds, longer is better.
    In this extended position, ensure the spine is kept neutral (no sagging head or lumbar) and try to eliminate any and all wobbling and shaking.
    See the sagging back, or exaggerated lumbar curve.Not good.
    See the sagging back, or exaggerated lumbar curve.
    Not good.

    Now thats better, a strong, neutral spine.Also notice the gluteal activation..
    Now thats better, a strong, neutral spine.
    Also notice the gluteal activation..

    A slight advancement is to pretend you have a pen sticking out of your heel and start drawing circles, or writing your name on the wall behind you. Just be sure that the pelvis is stationary and the leg moves from the hip joint.
    1 to 3 sets of 5-12 reps is ok, depending on your needs.


  • Planks 

    This simplicity itself, rest on your elbows and toes with the body held in a perfect straight line.Now don’t move.plankCan you stay there for 2 minutes? If not, why not? Sort it out, 2 minutes is a minimum standard, and we don’t do minimums!Once you hit the 2min mark, the Plank is no longer classed as an exercise, it becomes renamed as “Rest Period”

    So we take it up a notch. Here’s a few ideas:

    Three point planks – lift a leg or an arm without any change in alignment through the spine.

    Two point planks – Like the superman above, lift one leg and the opposite arm. Don’t wobble!

    Weighted Planks – balance a weight on the back, you may need a mate to help it balance.

    Moving planks – these are often called Push Ups.

    Side Planks – you are now balanced on one arm and the same side leg.

    Whatever variant you choose, the spine must be kept in perfect neutral, otherwise, it aint a plank and you’re not getting the desired benefits.

  • The Dead Bug or the Hundred Drill from Pilates 

    Lie flat on your back, that the arch of the back sink to the floor. Now lift the legs up and point them at the ceiling, same with the arms. This is the dead bug position. Hold it for time until it becomes comfortable.I prefer the Pilates method to count time, they call the position the Hundred and hold if for 100 breaths. Simple.Once this is all good, you can add to it. Here’s possibly the best presentation on the Dead Bug on the web, it’s from the inimitable Dan John, have a look:

  • The “Philippi”
    This is cool, it takes all the above stuff off the floor and into an athletic setting, it also trains the core to work reflexively, which is it’s real job.I’ll let Mark Philippi himself tell you more about it, this clip is an excerpt from a DVD he made with Mike Mahler, the drill is the first three minutes of this clip, the rest is an interview with Mark on program design, also well worth a watch:

In the next post we’ll take it to another level by moving away from pure stability and looking at stabilising the core in motion.



Bodyweight Minimum Standards, How Do You Measure Up?

What a weekend!

Saturday just gone I was over in Galway teaching the Bodyweight Workshop.
Sunday I was with Wild Geese Martial Arts founder, Paul Cox where we presented at the Filipino Martial Arts Exchange, then when I got home, the wife and I took a rare night out together at the movies where we saw Mama.
The Missus spent most of the movie clinging onto me with one hand and shielding here eyes with the other hand. Big scaredy cat!


But anyhow, back to the workshops..

Galway was cool.
I’ve run the bodyweight workshop in a few gyms now and always been blown away but the response I got from the attendees. In each workshop, at least half the attendance are instructors and coaches in their own right, and still they leave blown away by the possibilities of training with zero equipment.

Duckwalks - feeling the buuuurn!

Duckwalks – feeling the buuuurn!

Now I’ll admit, we did digress once or twice and grabbed the odd bit of kit to illustrate a point or show how to progress a movement by adding external resistance, but the majority of the work requires nothing more than your body and few feet of floor space.
The best thing is that when I created the workshop I actually wasn’t that confident that the first half would stand up to scrutiny, after all, how long can we talk about a simple Push Up and a Bodyweight Squat?

Well? How long?

An entire hour on each movement is how long. And that’s not even going into mad variations. We take the movement and dissect it, we strip it back to its absolute foundations, look at regressions, common errors and then progressions. The progression we build to are the unilateral versions, the Pistol squat and One Arm Push Up.

What makes the day workshop special is that it seems this level of technical detail in these simple exercises is largely missing, or possibly more accurately, it’s forgotten.
Very few people give these movements their due.

And that is a problem.

Each time I run the course, I have some very experienced gym goers and athletes humbled by these exercises that are considered basic.
Watching a person doing a Push Up or doing a Squat can tell a story. It shows limitations, structural imbalances and body awareness. It gives an idea of how well a person can move athletically.

So here’s a few minimum standards for these bodyweight exercises, see if you can pass them. Remember, quality is key here, I won’t accept half reps, poor quality reps, so neither should you. Accept nothing less than perfection.

And before you go on, no, I’m not perfect, some of these I struggle to meet:

Elbow Plank – Minimum acceptable standard: 2 minutes

Push Up – 50 real reps (25 for women), chest will touch the floor between the hands and the arms will come straight on each and every rep. Keep the spine in neutral throughout, that means no sagging heads or backs. (I rarely do high rep push ups, so don’t know if I can still do this. I’ll check this week..)

Bodyweight Squats – 500 reps, full range ie hamstrings meet the calves on each rep. Keep the feet flat, although 500 Hindu squats is also good.

Wrestlers Bridge – Weight on the forehead, for 1 minute. (This one gets me!)

Single leg bridge – 50 reps per leg, from floor to full hip hyperextension.

Pull Ups – overhand grip for 15 (5 for women) full reps. I give slight rider on these, I don’t expect guys to relax into a dead hang at the bottom, as that messes with my shoulder so I don’t like it as a technique. Keep the shoulders retracted the whole time.

Once you have these, try then the following:

One Arm Push Ups x 10 each hand.
Pistol Squats x 20 each leg

20 of these per leg please.

20 of these per leg please.

Just to reiterate, quality must come before quantity.
Do your bodyweight numbers add up?

Next week I’m up in Crossfit Causeway teaching Kettlebell Technique. That’s going to be a blast!

See you there!