Brad Pitt shirtless, oiled and gleaming in Fight Club. Admit it, you wanted to be him in that moment back in 1999. Or rather, you wanted the six pack. Every man did – although few had the dedication to get there.
This article will help you in that quest, but – and perhaps more importantly – it will also help you move and perform well. The best core workouts should be about much more than high-definition Tyler Durden abs. Your core muscles claim the assist on practically every movement your body makes and most of the exercises you ask of it at the gym.
We’re looking at the bigger picture. Sure you want to unleash that six pack, but don’t you want a more toned everything else while you’re at it?
Core Workout v. Abs Workout
“The difference between an abs workout and a core workout is semantics,” explains Luke Grahame, expert trainer at London’s Roar Fitness. “They are fundamentally the same thing. The key difference is the desired outcome: abs workouts imply training for aesthetics alone, core workouts imply training for function, in this case, strength and stability.”
Don’t care about any of that and just want great looking abs? Well, endlessly training your core won’t necessarily help with that. “As for which is better, the vast majority of people are wasting their time and effort by training their abs for aesthetic reasons,” explains Grahame.
“Unless an individual has attained a low enough body fat percentage, through calorie deficit and physical activity, no amount of abdominal training will achieve a six pack. Training for core function however will be of benefit to virtually everyone, regardless of their goal.”
Why It’s Important To Train Your Core
The core isn’t there just to make the bit between your chest and pants look good. It’s a highly complex part of your body, one that encompasses numerous vital functions that are essential to overall health; a protective shield and support for your spine and internal organs, assisting in circulation, and creating a safe foundation for all movement.
“With regards to exercise, all the extremities of the body (arms and legs) rely on the core as a foundation for stabilisation and force production,” says Luke. “If the core cannot effectively stabilise, then the ability to produce force (basically how strong you are) is severely diminished, and the risk of injury is increased, particularly in the lower back.”
Basically, without a strong core you won’t be able to lift heavier weights elsewhere around the gym. It’s all connected. You want to improve your shoulder exercises or your legs workout? Then you better get working your core.
The Ultimate Core Workout
Training your abs is notoriously torturous and carries the risk of feeling your hard work every time you move for the next few days. Grahame’s demanding workout will likely have the same effect, but it’ll be worth it.
These core exercises help you build a solid, functional mid-section that even Brad Pitt would be envious.
Complete the four part workout below once a week around your other exercise.
“This first movement serves as an effective activation exercise that reinforces recruitment of the obliques, glutes, and spinal erectors, and strengthens the body to resist potentially dangerous extension of the spine,” says Grahame. “In addition, the contralateral movement improves the ability to stabilise the torso while simultaneously coordinating upper-body and lower-body movements — a vital aspect of any sport.”
Complete two sets of 15 reps with no rest between sides.
While maintaining a neutral spine, kneel on the floor with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders.
Raise your opposite arm and leg straight out, keeping your abs braced, stomach in and your whole body in one straight line from head to foot.
The goal is to resist rotation and extension forces that attempt to destabilise your spine. Slowly lower the arm and leg back towards the floor. Repeat for 15 reps before moving onto the other side.
Turkish Get Up
No, not a trip to your local barbers, the Turkish get-up is instead a complex, multi-joint compound exercise.
“It challenges flexibility, joint mobility, and overall body strength, as well as loading the core through multiple planes of movement,” explains Grahame. It’s also notoriously difficult, so may require a few practice runs to truly hone.
Aim for four sets of six reps per side, with no rest between sides.
Start by lying on your back with a kettlebell pressed straight up overhead toward the ceiling with your right arm. Move your left leg out to the side (about a 45-degree angle for a wide base of support), and left arm at a similar angle. This is your start position.
Roll to the side as you drive your right hand up, coming up onto your left hand. You’re almost in a seated position here.
Bridge your hips up off the floor. Your left leg remains locked out and fully extended.
Bring your left leg back, threading it under your body, and placing your left knee on the ground into a half kneeling position, keeping the kettlebell extended overhead in your right arm.
Come up into a standing position to finish the movement. To get down, simply reverse the order.
Cable Paloff Press
You’re halfway there now with the finish line in sight but be warned, this one is a killer. “The cable paloff press is an anti-rotational core stability exercise that challenges core strength in the anterior core and obliques, evens out asymmetries and imbalances between the left and right sides and subsequently reduces the risk of injuries,” explains Grahame. We get the feeling he’s enjoying all of this, somehow.
Complete three sets of 10 reps per side. Want a rest between sides? Dream on.
Standing square, set the cable attachment at chest height and grip the D handle attachment with both hands. When you extend your arms, the cable should be at a 90-degree angle to the torso.
Extend the arms and hold in the extended position for 1-2 seconds before you bring them back to the starting position.
Maintain proper alignment for the duration of the exercise.
Raise your hand if you want a quit? Now put those hands back down, the only raising you should be doing is the Garhammer to finish the workout off.
“The Garhammer Raise is an advanced core exercise that challenges spinal flexion as well as the lats and grip,” explains Luke. “The limited range of motion means that the rectus abdominus muscles are isolated effectively with limited contribution from the hip flexors.”
Perform three sets of 15 reps, with a 60 second rest between sets.
Start by hanging from a pull up bar with an overhand grip, with the knees pulled up so your thighs are parallel to the floor.
From here, pull the knees up into the chest by flexing the rectus abdominus muscles. Hold for one second and then return slowly to starting position.