Think Trunk not 6 Pack: How to Forge Rock Hard Core Strength

A stronger core will improve your lifts, movements and posture, as well as promoting long term health and preventing injury.

Powerful core strength will benefit all your functional movements, help prevent injury and improve your lifts and performances. If you neglect your core, you will create huge weaknesses for yourself, and become more susceptible to injury and poor movement patterns.

WHAT IS YOUR CORE?

The core is the group of interlinked muscles that make up the trunk of your body and keep your spine in place. These deeper Muscles include your transverse abdominals, multifidus, diaphragm, pelvic floor and internal abdominal obliques.

medical diagram of core strength muscles
The core muscles

WHAT DOES IT DO?

Put simply, your core is the base for almost all the functional movements you will ever perform. It allows you to:

  • Stabilise movement
  • Transfer and control force throughout your body
  • Protect your spine
  • Support your other limbs

The collection of muscles that make up this trunk of your body help to control and transform the force that you create into the movements you want to perform. From throwing a stone into a lake, picking up vegetables from the bottom of the fridge, or hitting a new Deadlift PR, core stability and strength is vital for enabling you to complete a huge array of activities.

HOW YOUR CORE CONTROLS MOVEMENT

Crossfit games athlete Josh Bridges trains core strength with lunges
Your core is vital for supporting all your movements

Your core provides functional movement across all three planes of motion:

The Sagittal Plane – This divides the body into two halves and weight and movement are transferred up and down along a straight line. Think Thrusters, Squats and Cleans

The Coronal Plane – Here the plane divides the body into front and back and includes all sideways movements. Lateral lunges are a good example of this.

Transverse Plain – Movements along this plane split the body into a top and bottom half. Russian Twists are an exercise that moves along the Transverse Plain.

Your core stabilises and controls all your movement, so think now about a WOD involving heavy Squat Cleans, Handstand walks and legless rope climbs. Each of these exercises requires your core to stabilise and control your body in a different way, and will test its functional capability.

PERFORMING WITHOUT INJURY

Developing a strong core is an incredibly effective measure for preventing you from getting hurt. Athletes with higher core stability have a lower risk of injury, as they are able to operate with strong and controlled movement patterns. When a powerful core is combined with the results of dedicated mobility and strength work, then you start looking at the foundations of a very well rounded athlete.

Understanding this also helps to create a mentality that looks towards long term health. A strong core will not only make you a better athlete now, but will help reduce the risk of injury in the future as well. Working with equipment that naturally supports and augments your movements, such as Rehband Knee Sleeves, is another way to help promote longevity and good form.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CORE AND 6 PACK

On a purely aesthetic level, a 6 pack is a combination of good nutrition and well developed rectus abdominis muscles. These are exterior muscles, visible once a person’s body fat percentage becomes low enough. It is fully possible to have a well developed 6 pack yet still have a weak core.

If you work hard on your core, and maintain a strict nutritional plan, then a 6 pack will develop as an ancillary bonus, a side product and a result of the work that you put in. Crossfit® places functionality first, so as you develop the strength of your core and the effectiveness of your movements, you also train the external muscles such as the external obliques and the rectus abdominis.

rich froning crossfit athlete training core strength
A well developed core will help you to enable your full potential

EXERCISES THAT FORGE ROCK SOLID CORE STRENGTH

So what do you need to do and which exercises should you add into your programming to create incredible core strength?

1. FULL BODY COMPOUND LIFTS

DEADLIFT

When it comes to core exercises, you cannot go wrong with the Deadlift. It requires absolute stability and taxes your ability to generate and control enough force to shift a large amount of weight – probably more than you can move with any other lift. It does not isolate any particular area within the core, instead stressing your whole body in a highly functional way.

Look at the 20016 CrossFit® Regionals, Event 5 was called ‘Corediac Arrest’, and it involved both heavy Deadlifts and GHD Sit Ups, a huge test for the core strength of the Athletes. The programming for the event placed the Deadlifts right at the end of the WOD, to make them even more difficult, and you could see this from the pain and determination etched into the faces of the athletes as they powered through them and completed the workout. Back supports are also exceptionally useful to support your movement and form during this exercise.

crossfit athlete Camille Leblanc-Bazinet training core strength with deadlifts
Deadlifts are great for fortifying your core

SQUAT

In a similar way to the Deadlift, you cannot Squat well without a tight core. Stability is absolutely essential so that you don’t crumple into poor form when faced with heavier weights. Your core has to stabilise your spine and keep it in a neutral position throughout the full range of motion, from top to bottom. Exposing the group of muscles that make up your core to this kind of pressure forces them to strengthen and develop.

The Deadlift and the Squat will both fortify your core in a way that will be extremely helpful for you during other lifts such as the Snatch, Overhead Squat or Split Jerk, as all 3 of these also require significant core strength to perform well.

2. CORE EXRECISES

These exercises will all target and work your core and lower back in unique ways

  • L Sits
  • GHD Sit Ups
  • Planks and Side Planks
  • Toes to Bar
  • Good Mornings
  • Back Extensions
  • Handstand Holds
  • Russian Twists
  • D-Ball Cleans
rich froning crossfit games athlete d ball clean to train core strength
A powerful core can help prevent injury throughout your life

You will probably already have experience with some or all of these exercises, so I’m sure you will be familiar with how they test your body during WODs, and how they feel. By combining them with the heavy compound lifts, you will be able to attack your core and uncover any weaknesses that may be present.

Try this WOD for your core.

  • 10 minute AMRAP
  • 25 GHD Sit Ups (Scale with Sit Ups)
  • 15 Toes to Bar (Scale with Knees to Bar
  • 8 Deadlifts at 60% of your 1RM
  • Once the 10 minutes is up, hold a plank for as long as you can, then add the number of seconds to your total score.

Let us know how you get on!

THINK TRUNK NOT 6 PACK: YOUR IRON CORE

One traditional mistake that is often made when ‘core strength work’ is undertaken is to confuse the core with the abs (the rectus abdominis). Functional movements are sometimes overlooked in favour of endless, isolated crunches. Where CrossFit® is so effective is that it makes constant use of functional movements and does not spend much time with exercises that try to isolate one particular part of the body. The core, like the human body, is a complex interconnected system, and by training it through a variety of functional exercises, under differing loads and conditions, you will become stronger, move well, prevent injury in the long run and improve your ability to control and generate force and power.

Enable your full potential now!


medical diagram of core strength muscles © fitdocs

Crossfit games athlete Josh Bridges trains core strength with lunges © Rehband

rich froning crossfit athlete training core strength © Rehband

crossfit athlete Camille Leblanc-Bazinet training core strength with deadlifts © Rehband

rich froning crossfit games athlete d ball clean to train core strength © Rehband

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About The Author

Editor-In-Chief at BOXROX. I come from a background of rugby and weightlifting. Growing up in the English Lake District, I spent a great deal of time swimming in its stunning lakes and rivers. In 2015 my brothers and I became the first people to swim the 145km length of the River Eden, from source to mouth, in 9 days. We also swam the Corryvreckan whirlpool, the third largest in the world, and Crossfit is a huge part of my training for these events.

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