Let’s talk core strength real quick.

Doing “core work” is common nomenclature for exercising the muscles of the stomach – however, the tummy isn’t the only area we think of when we think of the core. The entire trunk, back and front, side to side, comprises the whole core and it’s purpose for when you move is to transfer energy to your arms and legs and to stabilize your spine (aka controlling that energy transfer). This is why if you have a weak core, the rest of your body will be weak because energy will be ‘leaked’ and you won’t be able to pick up your kiddos, lift that box overhead, shovel your driveway or, in the gym: pull, push, squat, hinge or rotate with full, safe ability.

Given the essential use of your core to stabilize your spine and transfer energy, it’s important to train it (aka practice, in safe controlled environments) so that the brain can talk to the muscles and, in turn, make them fire when and how they are suppose to.

How do I make my core do its job?

We do a lot of our work here in the gym centered around the core. In fact, I’d dare say nearly everything we do here is centered around the core (it’s really important). You won’t see us doing sit ups by the hundreds (which can actually cause more harm than good) or, really much of any other isolated flexion work, since that’s not how your core needs to be called upon in everyday life. What it does need is practice stabilizing, so that when you do things like carry that heavy laundry basket up the stairs, your core fires, telling your spine to stabilize, protecting your back.

One of the best ways we train your muscles to stabilize the spine is to “brace your core” – to some, this might automatically make them think of “sucking in”your stomach. However, it’s definitely not a sucking in as it is a contraction of the abs, almost a bearing down, where you’re bringing your lower and upper abs ‘together’. Sometimes we say “bring your belt buckle to your belly button” to get that mental picture of your pelvis tilting slightly back, flattening your spine to the ground (if you’re lying down), contracted and hard.

Another cue we might say in the gym is “imagine someone is punching you in the stomach” – you don’t have to have been punched in the stomach before to (hopefully) 🙂 immediately respond with a tense and stiffened tummy – you’re bracing your core. This means the entire abdominal wall is activated from all angles, sides, and directions, causing the three layers of the muscles to actually physically bind together. This is the movement we’re looking for.

In the bottom photo below, Kelly is performing some abdominal bracing (aka bringing her belt buckle to her belly button) while lying in the floor in the “dead bug” position. She’s not sucking in her tummy, as in the top photo, but she’s contracting in a way that’s excellent for strengthening and even for developing a nice, taut, flat stomach. The force she’s creating is bringing the top and bottom part of her abs together, while ‘filling out’ the sides toward the ribcage, as well. If you look closely, you can see the difference in the wrinkles of her shirt – similar to how her abs are (bottom photo) or aren’t (top photo) working.

We see this bracing transfer to other activities, like a standing chest press. With the weight behind her, wanting to pull her backwards, Kelly has to contract her stomach – brace it as if she’s going to get punched – as she pushes the cable handles forward. This shifts this exercise from not being just an upper body one, but to a phenomenal ab one as well. Think of this each time you do an exercise – whether it’s a plank, a push-up, a squat, shoulder press…

Brace that core. This, my friends, is what produces abs of steel.


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