The core comprises 55% Type 1 (slow twitch/endurance) muscle fibres, 45% type II (fast-twitch – strength/power). This means that combination of hi and low rep exercises required to optimize development.
Recommend 6-12 reps for moderately loaded movements (such as weighted crunch variations) and 15-30 rep range (or 45s) for bodyweight/more explosive movements.
3-6 sessions per week. 2 exercises per session, 3-4 sets per exercise.
Yes, this can translate to 2 sessions per week 6 exercises per session, 3-4 sets per exercises or other variation of these ratios. Gravity calisthenics classes incorporate significant core training as standard so our calisthenics practitioners tend not to do separate core training.
Speed vs Quality: Its simple, don’t rush core movements. Quality not speed or high volume is the goal. Time under tension is an important factor. For most movements think 3 seconds for the concentric and 3 seconds eccentric part of the technique.
Vertical vs 45 degree legs (example 90 degree hanging leg raises higher quality that letting legs go to ground as we lose form/tension then). 45 Degree leg climbs ensure core tension always on to hold leg at that angle. a vertical leg may be passive.
Quick Myths and Misnomers
Sit Ups. Generally bad for the lumbar spine – crunches are better. For crunches, either touch heels (bilaterally or unilaterally [alternating] or engage in a 4 inch slide of the hands along the floor.
You cannot crunch your way to a 6-pack. The correct nutritional plan/minimum body fat is required to expose the rectus abdominis. Genetics is also a significant factor.
Planks - often done with a lack of glute activation. Try a Long Lever Posterior Pelvic Tilt Plank/Walkout/Rings layout instead. For long lever plank, move elbows out from under shoulder to under eyes. You will need to squeeze the glutes to maintain a straight body line.
Unstable surfaces (e.g. bosu ball) - studies show that unstable surfaces do not generate great muscle activation that stable ones.
Anatomy & Function
Transverse Abdominis (TVA)
TVA stabilizes the spine via thoracic and pelvic stability – your personal safety belt. Without stable spine (TVA contraction), the Central Nervous System (CNS) fails to recruit the correct muscles for functional movement. Underdevelopment here can result in low back injury.
Mid-Upper Rectus Abdominis
From pelvis up to sternum – and underneath that transverse abdominis which is the bodies own personal safety belt. The often-termed ‘six-pack’ is most important for its ability to prevent (not produce) motion in all planes. Key posture muscle. Flexion (think crunch) and for respiration (bracing in lifting).
From 8th rib down to pelvis. Internal oblique underneath from pelvis to mid-section
Serratus: Protracts and stabilizers Scapula. Obliques: The internal obliques (across) function bilaterally (both sides) to flex the trunk and compress its contents. They function unilaterally (one-sided) to laterally flex the trunk and rotate it to the same side. The external obliques (vertical) function bilaterally to flex the trunk and compress its content. Critical for three-dimensional power generation and performance without sacrificing spinal stability. When optimally developed, these muscles also provide a waist tapering effect.
Erector spinae muscles of low back support/stabilize. Lumbar paraspinals course down your back and spine and help to move your spine into extension, rotation, and side bending.
Weakness here can result in recurrent back spasms and/or pain, as well as postural breakdown.
Stability (anti-stability and dynamic stability)
Below is an extract of the exercises used in our core clinic today. There are other high quality movements all with progression, regressions and variations. But the following provides a great selection of core exercises targeting primarily zones 1, 2 and 3 (with some support from zone 4). These and more are incorporated as standard in Gravity calisthenics classes where the core/trunk is required to support or help move various skill and movements.
1. Roll Out (straight legs harder) - 15-30 Reps
2. Side Crunch - 8-15 Reps each side
3. Partner Assisted Lying Leg Raise OR 45 degree climbs - 45s
4. Side Bridge Raises - 8-15 Reps each side
5. Broomstick Twist - 8-15 Reps each side
6. Hollow Body Corkscrew/Bicycle Crunch - 45s
7. Heels to Heaven (Reverse Crunch) - 45s
8. Stability Ball Plate Twist/Landmine Wipers/Thread the Needle - 6-12 Reps each side
9. Anti-Rotation Lockout/Banded Cauldron - 6-12 Reps each side
10. Hanging Leg Raise Variation - 6-12 Reps each side or 45s
11. V-Up/Leg Climbs/Alternating Jackknife - 45s
12. Dragon Flag - 6-12 Reps
The exercises above focus more on zones 1, 2 and 3 as zone 4 was fully covered in our Lower Back Pain clinic - see here for a full range of exercises and mobility drills for Zone 4. It would be remiss of us here however not to advise that the antagonist muscles of Zone 4 - for those of you engaging in an "abs day" - should be trained.
Antagonist Muscles (example)
Have to train antagonists when doing “Ab” training –
1. Reverse Hyper Extension 10-12 Reps
2. Superman pull 12-20 Reps
3. Bird Dog 12-20 Reps
4. RDL 12-16 Reps
For a more complete list, review the strengthening exercise of our complimentary post re Lower Back Pain. Better, still, sign up to a calisthenics class today so we can show you how to build strength, increase mobility and flexibility whilst developing a strong and functional core and avoiding lower back pain/other injuries. Contact us here
Side Lever (Human Flag) - Requires a strong core/trunk