Having a washboard stomach or a six pack is a goal for most lifters, but many fall short because of the consistent dedication it takes to developing a strong core. A defined and muscular core shows health, stability and strength. A weak core not only looks bad, it can even make your other muscles less stable and more prone to injury during workouts or other strenuous activities.
Your core muscles include the muscles of your lower torso, your oblique muscles, lower back muscles, and your abdominal muscles. These muscles are used in a wide range of movements and are involved in stabilizing your body during major compound lifts like dead lifts and squats. The stronger your core muscles are, the easier it will be to push yourself on the major lifts and avoid injury, so having a good regular core workout routine is a must for any serious lifter.
A plan for a good regular core workout
For a good core workout you will want to do a minimum of 4 different core exercises per workout with 2 workouts per week. You should also learn more than 4 exercises so that you can switch them up during each workout. For each exercise you will want to do 3 sets of 8-20 reps. The exact amount of reps that you should do depends on your ability and experience with the exercise.
If you are just starting out you will need to stay on the safe side and keep your reps on the lower end to avoid injury. You should allow two to three days of rest between each workout, so a maximum of two workouts per week is highly recommended. Unless you are an elite athlete, do not over train your core by working out more often as this can also lead to injury.
Workout 1 – Swiss Ball Crunches
- Lay on an exercise ball so that your feet are spread slightly more than shoulder width apart and your lower back is on the center of the exercise ball
- Lie back and place your hands behind your head
- Crunch forward and pull your torso up toward your legs until you feel a squeeze in your abs
- Hold the contracted position for 1 second then return slowly to the start position
Swiss ball crunches are a great workout for the full abdominal region and are surprisingly difficult even though they look easy. You can do anywhere from 10-20 repetitions per set, depending on your energy level. If this workout is too easy you can hold weight at your chest to make it more difficult.
Workout 2 – Exercise Ball Pull-Ins
- Put your shins on top of the exercise ball and prop yourself up by your hands with your knees bent
- Extend your legs backward and push the exercise ball behind you and repeat
Exercise ball pull-ins are a great way to focus on the lower abdominal muscles. This exercise can be repeated 10-15 times, and if it is too easy try using just one leg at a time.
Workout 3 – Plate Twists
- Sit on a floor with your legs extended and your torso upright
- Grab a plate by the sides with both hands and place it in front of your abs with your elbows slightly bent
- Cross your legs at the ankles and lift them up off the ground with your knees bent, and lean your upper body back to keep your balance
- Move the plate to your left and touch it to the floor
- Bring the plate back up to the middle and move it to your right
This is a challenging workout that works the oblique stabilizer muscles and abs. If you are not used to the motion try a lower weight first and work your way up to higher weight.
Workout 4 – Back Extensions
- Lie on a hyper extension bench face forward with your ankles underneath the foot pads to support you
- Adjust the upper pad so that you can bend at the waist freely
- Cross your arms in front of you and bend forward slowly at the hips
- Continue to move forward until you feel a stretch on your hamstrings
- Raise your torso back to the starting position
The back extension works the lower back, hamstrings and glutes and is an excellent core workout to include in your route. You can hold a plate across your chest while doing this workout if it is not challenging enough, and weight can be increased as needed. 8-15 reps are sufficient for this workout.
Benefits of Developing a Strong Core
Improving your core comes with many benefits. You will have increased strength and reduce your chance of injury because stronger core muscles resist external forces better. With a strong core you will also increase your range of motion and flexibility. The core muscles are the center of your muscular system and will help you push yourself past your limit when doing bench presses, squats, and other lifts.
Your core keeps you balanced and on your feet when your position and weight shifts, and a strong core will help you lift more in all of your workouts. Core training will also prevent knee, shoulder, and ankle joint injuries by sharing the load that these joints would normally take. This is especially important for you as you age, as core training can reduce the effect of gravity on the joints.
Athletes such as wrestlers, MMA fighters, football players, hockey players, gymnasts and others dedicate a lot of time to developing their core to avoid injuries and help them with their balance and stability. You should take a cue from these athletes and also devote enough time and effort into building a strong core to help you with achieving your lifting goals.
Hopefully this has convinced you to implement some of the above mentioned core workout exercises and others into your routine. Once you start developing a stronger core, it will give you that little bit of extra strength and energy that you need to push yourself further in the gym.