Core Strength is one of the most misunderstood topics in the fitness world. If you want to be strong, you must have an iron strong core, and chances are you've been going about it all wrong.
What is Core Strength?
This is the definition I'm going to use, and I'll stand by it..
Core Strength is your ability to stabilize the torso (trunk) under load.
The "Core" includes the abs, stabilizing muscles in the back, and really the entire trunk working together to stabilize the body.
When you perform movement under heavy load... for example, during a back squat, your torso must be able to stabilize the weight while you move. If you cannot stabilize the weight, you will simply not be able to complete the movement.
The human body is pretty intelligent. It can sense instability, and will not allow you to perform a loaded movement that you cannot stabilize.
Proprioception is the process through which the central nervous system essentially controls your ability to produce strength.
The point? A weak and unstable core will limit your strength potential, period.
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How to Train for Real Core Strength
My goal here is to provide value to you, the reader. Here are some high-impact methods you can implement into your training to develop serious core strength.
Zercher holds, walks and squats are quite possibly the single best core-strengthening movements that exist.
With weight held in the crook of your arms, your trunk is forced to work hard to keep the body upright. If you don't brace the hell out of your core, you will not be able to hold onto the weight without being folded.
4 Zercher Variations for Core Strength
First up are Zercher Walks. Holding the weight out in front of you, keep your posture upright and walk, taking small steps and bracing the hell out of your trunk/core.
Next we'll look at some Zercher Shrugs. Here you can target the core as well as the Traps, performing shrugs from this position. Continue to fight to keep the torso upright and braced hard.
Zercher Squats are another very solid movement for core strength as well as targeting the lower body. These are basically a tougher version of front squats, with increased emphasis on bracing the trunk.
Last but not least for the Zercher variations are some isometric holds. These are essentially standing, loaded planks. These are far tougher than a plank and will create real core strength. Planks are great, but lend themselves to core endurance more so than true raw core strength.
2. Loaded Carries
Loaded carries are an incredible and often under-utilized method for building both size and strength.
When you perform a heavy farmers carry, the weight shifts slightly as you move, forcing your core to continuously stabilize the weight. This extends to muscle fibers in the back, Traps and shoulders as well.
The high amount of tension you can place on the upper back, Traps, shoulders and arms with heavy carries can lead to significant hypertrophy, and can also make you strong as hell.
You can use heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, farmer carry handles, or even a trap bar.
If you havn't noticed, I'm trying to give you options you can integrate into your current training.
Rather than simply adding movements to your current training routine, you can work some of these in and swap out movements that you may already be doing too much of. I.e., replace DB shrugs with Zercher shrugs, and swap out overhead pressing for the Z-Press for a while.
Pressing from the seated Position will take away any ability to cheat, with zero leg drive and nothing to lean against.
Your core strength will absolutely be a limiting factor in how much you can press from this position.
The Z-Press was invented by famous Strongman Zydrunas Savickas, who held a 500lb overhead press. He credited this movement with developing raw pressing strength.
Use a barbell, swiss bar, or dumbbells.
4. Plank Variations for Core Strength
I have nothing against planks and use them all the time with clients.
If you're targeting core strength and are already good at planks, consider performing some more challenging variations.
Shorten the time of each set and work on getting stronger.
Extended Planks will force the trunk to work harder to remain stable. Try holding these for 20-30 seconds and you'll see that they are far more difficult than a traditional front plank.
Star Planks are another tough plank variation. Raise the top arm and leg from a side plank position and hold.
Last but not least, try weighted planks. This will shift the focus from core endurance to core strength in a hurry.
Just be careful not to overdo it.. You don't need to train to failure on these, and probably shouldn't be coming too close to max effort work on a plank.
Final Thoughts on Core Strength
I hope this article has given you some solid ideas on how to build some real core strength.
Try integrating a few of these into your current training split and work on getting stronger with them.
As with all new training methods, start conservative and work on solid form, then build from there.
If you want it all programmed for you, check out the Swole Town Program and join the team.
If you liked this article, check out "Upgrade Your Shoulder Workouts" for some solid tips on shoulder day training.