What is it? Well, I can tell you that t every single athlete I work with knows it is important. They know it is something they should strengthen and something they would like to have well defined, even “chiseled” if I may…like King Leonidas (one of the best movies ever by the way!).
But what many of us think about when we talk about “the core” is not all there is to the injury preventing, performance enhancing, aesthetically pleasing layer of muscle we speak of. In fact, many of us are simply envisioning one muscle.
This one muscle being the rectus abdominus, or the “6 Pack Muscle.”
And while the rectus is definitely one part of the core, and it is in fact the muscle that may look like a vertical ice cube tray on those of us that are not sporting an extra layer of insulation, it is far from the only muscle that must be trained.
So, what is “the core?”
My definition of the core is the section of muscle and fascia between the hips and the ribcage.
So by this definition you can see that rather than simply talking about the rectus abdominus, we must also include the obliques, transverse abdominus, iliopsoas, quadratus lumborum, multifidy, glutes, lats, and more…a whole lot of muscles!
Because it would take a year or more to actually address each of the muscles that are found between the ribs and hips, lets just focus on the key players for the concepts that are going to be covered in this series. Those being the rectus abdominus, obliques and glutes.
These muscles, when trained correctly, provide a great portion of the true “jobs” of the core.
Those jobs being to prevent unwanted movement of spine and hips, transfer force throughout the body, produce spinal flexion, extension and rotation, and, to provide the aesthetically pleasing midsection that many of us enjoy looking at and would like to have.
With that, let’s finish this intro with the greatest mistakes I see with a large majority of “core training.”
1.Stuck in the dark ages when it comes to our core training.
When you go in to almost any big box gym, or throw in the latest and greatest core workout DVD, you will typically see tons of crunching, rotating, side bending and back extending exercises.
And while we should be able to do all of these movements, repeatedly going through these movements, ESPECIALLY under load and/or with high velocities, is a recipe for spinal issues. These issues could be a herniated disc, spinal fracture and more.
So yes, while the core does produce many of these movements, training your core in this fashion is old, and well, bad news!
Instead of focusing on “moving exercises” as your primary core exercises, switch to “anti-moving” exercises as your primary focus. These types of exercises include dead bugs, birddogs, planks, anti-rotation variations and more.
2.Training the right exercises incorrectly
Some of us who are up to date with the fact that the core is more or less meant to stabilize and prevent movement, are unfortunately executing appropriate exercises improperly.
This means that deadbugs, birddogs, plank variations and anti-rotation variations are being incorporated, but the the execution of the exercises are not reinforcing what they are supposed to be.
In this case it is usually the fact that we are relying on our rectus abdominus (again that sexy 6 pack muscle) to do most of the work, along with the muscles of the back such as the erectors of the low back.
This leads to rectus dominance, overuse injury of the low back, and a less than optimally stable spine and hip complex…further leading to injury, performance decrease and also a “pregnant looking” midsection…check out “The Iceman.”
So, it is imperative that you learn how to use the obliques rather than simply relying on the rectus abdominus when performing even the best of exercises!
3.Scared of movement.
Again, here is another issue with many of the “in crowd”…those of us who understand that the core is primarily meant to stabilize and prevent movement.
Because we know that excessive movement exercises like crunches, side bends, twists, etc. are not the best for our health, performance and aesthetics, we begin to demonize these movements and avoid them all together.
Like anything else in the health, fitness and performance game, if you follow an extreme view on something you are typically missing out, and likely not optimizing your training.
So instead of being scared to move through flexion, twisting and side bending exercises, simply make sure that your body (and core) is ready and strong enough to perform these actions without a great risk of injury. That happens by first training your core to do the opposite (stabilize), and then strategically adding in variations of flexion, twists and side bends…think medball work for example!
4.Thinking that training the core is the solution to our 6 pack.
Training your core for an aesthetic result is just like any other muscle in the body. You must place more demand on the muscles and force them to grow and become more defined.
And the biggest piece that we tend to skip over is the fact that in order to see the core that you have been working hard for, you must have a lean enough body composition.
This is where nutrition is key, and following effective and healthy nutritional principles will allow you to change your body composition to less fat and more muscle…which will show off “those abs!”
And when you combine solid nutrition with proper training for the core, you can achieve a tight, vacuum like appearance at the waist, and be able to see the hard earned core muscles that are protecting and enhancing your body.
Now that you know there are a few things that must be considered and addressed when it comes to effectively, and optimally training your core, we will break down and go through just how you can go from a weak, suboptimal core, to a high performing, injury preventing and aesthetically pleasing one.
And for even more expert information and hands on coaching, make sure to contact me to sign up for the upcoming seminar Real Core Training (flyer below) where I will go over everything covered in this article series and more…everything you need to know about effective and results driven core training!
Even better, with the $10 admission fee you will be helping support a great cause as 100% of the admission fees will be going to the Homeland Heroes Foundation.
Support our military, veterans and their families while learning all about how to truly train your core for optimal results.
Share this article (and those to follow) with those you love and care about…or even just those you like a little bit!
“Training everyday is not good for you!”
“If you aren’t getting the results you want just train more!”
“2 days per week is all you need to train when you are looking to gain strength and add muscle.”
“You should train different muscles each day of the week!”
You may have heard someone say one, or all of these statements before. So which one is right? Which one is wrong? And which one is more ridiculous than The Weekends haircut…like what the?
So really, the overall question is how often should you train to achieve the goals you are looking for?
As with most answers in the health, fitness and performance world it depends! But that answer kinda sucks, so I’m going to give you my best answer.
The short answer…you should be training 3-4 days per week if you want to achieve optimal health, fitness and performance.
But I’m all about the detailed answers, because the more info you have the better decision you can make!
With that, lets look at a couple different scenarios and then discuss how many days per week would be optimal for each.
Your goals include overall enhancement of health and strength.
If your goal is to simply be healthier (either improve or maintain healthy markers such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, resting heart rate, etc.) and add a little strength you can do this with 2-3 training sessions per week.
These sessions can be of moderate to high intensity and should involve resistance training and some conditioning. This way you will stimulate strength improvements, build some high quality tissue (MUSCLE) and tap into your cardiovascular system to help improve your overall conditioning and cardiovascular health.
On the other 4-5 days of the week you still need stay active, and it would behoove you to work on correcting or maintaining quality movement patterns such as squatting, lunging, hinging as well as upper body pushing and pulling.
You can achieve this by going for brisk walks, hiking, biking, swimming, etc. as well as throwing in some low level bodyweight movements, like you would for a quality warm up.
Of course nutrition should also be on point if you want to optimally improve your health while gaining some strength and muscle…this takes articles upon articles to understand, but if you look around on The Athletic Way a bit you will find tons of info!
Your goals include strength improvement, muscle gain and fat loss
If you are looking for optimal strength and muscle gain, as well as fat loss, I suggest training 3-5 times per week, with 3-4 of these sessions being higher intensity and 1-2 being moderate intensity.
This may be 3 full body resistance training sessions per week with 1-2 higher intensity conditioning sessions such as sprints, interval work on the bike or row machine, sled pushes or a bodyweight circuit.
Or this could be 2 lower body sessions, 2 upper body sessions and then 1-2 conditioning sessions.
These two types of training splits will help to maximally stimulate the system throughout the week which will help to improve strength and muscle mass. The addition of the higher intensity conditioning sessions will help to burn more calories and incinerate more fat without compromising muscle…as long as recovery and nutrition are also on point of course!
Again here, the other days of the week should still have a focus of staying physically active with walking, hiking, biking, etc…try to get out and enjoy some nature, take the dog for a walk or go for a little jaunt with the significant other.
Your goals include maximizing performance for sport
Training for optimal performance is very similar to training for optimal strength improvement, muscle gain and fat loss.
So as in the previous case, I would suggest training 3-5 times per week. The difference comes in that competitive athletes have competitions and seasons that they must work with and around.
When an athlete is in an off season, 3-4 higher intensity sessions with 1-2 moderate intensity sessions is suggested. This may come in the form of 3 high intensity resistance training days with 1-2 higher intensity conditioning sessions, which would also involve speed and agility work.
Then during a season or competitive period of the year, training sessions may have more of a maintenance and restorative focus. The training can still be intense, but the volume would be lower. This could still be 3 resistance training sessions per week, with lower volume, and then the other 1-2 sessions would be lower intensity conditioning and recovery work to help the system recuperate.
Overall though, if you are a competitive athlete looking to maximize performance I encourage that you continue resistance training all year round, manipulating the focus and intensity of the sessions.
How Often Should You Train?
With the information above you can determine how many days per week you should be training to reach your goals.
Frequency is one of the most important keys to truly achieving the level of health and fitness that most of us are in search of.
Many of us do not train enough during the week, or in the right capacity and intensity (which a qualified coach can help you with). And then there are some of us that train too many days at a high intensity. Both scenarios will prevent you from achieving the body, health and performance you want.
So the next time you are wondering if you are training enough (or too much) to reach your goals, well, I guess you don’t need to wonder, because now you know 🙂